The Magic of the Butterfly – Annie Pang
Sometimes when I am out in the field looking for one thing, I find something else quite unexpected, and in this case it was a very welcome thing to find indeed. It was a warm, sunny Friday on June 29th and I had convinced John to take the afternoon off and help me track down a few sightings that had not been photographed by anyone that we had heard of. Our first stop was Mt. Tolmie where Painted Ladies and even a West Coast Lady had been sighted two days before. But it had rained Thursday and been very unpleasant so there was no point in looking. Friday was a surprise as it was supposed to rain again but the sky cleared and the day became sunny and warm. I found it uncomfortably warm because here in Victoria we’ve become so used to the cool climate we’ve had so far this year that anything above 17° Celsius feels downright hot.
We drove up to the top of Mt. Tolmie slowly but saw no “Ladies” of any kind. Discouraged, I still grabbed my camera out of habit as I left the van. I walked towards the path where I had heard a Red Admiral had been sighted as well, then turned to avoid it because I saw some young people playing rather loud music all crowded into the brambled walkway I really wanted to check out. But something caught my eye and caused me to stop. I took a closer look and saw that they had really good cameras; expensive DSLR’s for sure. I had a funny feeling that I should see what they were up to. It was a good move in so many ways. They were photographing two Lorquin’s Admirals, a male and female, locked together, mating on Himalayan blackberry leaves. I commented to them on the species as I looked on and started taking shots of my own. We all sort of melted together at that point, enthralled by what we were seeing. Their exclamations, and, frankly, my own, brought us together as lovers of these beautiful creatures. I could see these kids had good hearts and apparently so could the butterflies!
Done mating, the butterfly pair separated and one took off almost instantly. The other stayed behind and flew around us. “T.J.”, for that was one young man’s name, crouched down and started talking to the butterfly. His music was still blaring away from his backpack, but I think he and the butterfly were both oblivious to it. He put his hand out onto the ground where the Lorquin’s had landed a number of times. It landed again and then, wonder of wonders, it crawled right onto his fingers. We all just stared. But not for long!
“Quick, man, take some pictures” whispered T.J. to his friend, Peter. We all took pictures, we were all talking, joined together in this experience by the grace of a butterfly. I explained that butterflies were sensitive to sudden motion as opposed to noise, so T.J. was very slow and gentle. I encouraged them to take side shots as well because the Lorquin’s Admiral looks different with wings shut. Funnily enough, as if on cue, the Lorquin’s Admiral on T.J.’s hand slowly closed its wings and there were more sounds of wonderment that gladdened my heart as we all took pictures with the grime of the ground still on his hand where the butterfly “posed”. Nobody cared about that, so caught up in the moment as we were.
T.J., Peter and Mackenzie, their pretty lady friend, turned out to be our future for tomorrow. Our hope for tomorrow. I watched them, marveling in awe at the butterfly sitting sedately on T.J.’s hand. It stayed there for an uncanny amount of time – even I was surprised and I’ve had plenty of butterflies land on me. It really felt like this butterfly was trying to tell us something, something very important. This time it chose to reach out to some young people and that made my mission so much easier; to educate and raise awareness of our diminishing butterfly population.
Out of a bit of excitement, T.J. turned suddenly to talk to us and the Lorquin’s took off. But as it departed, T.J. simply said to it “Thank You, thank you…” and turning back to us he exclaimed “Man, I’m just sweating!” And I knew he understood what it was like to experience that magical moment when a butterfly lands on your hand, on your foot or on your head – there’s nothing quite like it. And it is an experience that T.J. is not likely to forget either. He told me he would have no problem remembering it was a “Lorquin’s Admiral” after that experience. And then he put out his hand and introduced himself to us both, as did Peter and Mackenzie. I mentioned our blog site to them in case they were interested in finding out more about our local butterflies and was quite surprised at their enthusiasm and, needless to say, extremely pleased. These days it is such a pleasure to find young people who are genuinely interested in things outside of themselves. And especially when that interest turns towards Nature. It was a gift to me to meet them and I asked them if it was okay if I wrote a blog about my experience with them. Not only did they readily agree but they even gave me permission to use their names, and so I have.
The Lorquin’s Admiral brought us together; two different generations with nothing in common – nothing except everything that really mattered. I heard in their eyes, their worries about the future of this planet they hold dear, that is their home. I saw in their voices, behind the cigarettes, loud music and cheerful but sad smiles, the words “I’m scared and I’m glad we met so we could share this bit of magic that is left.”
I felt the imploring call, “Please keep doing what you are doing…”.
We went on our way after that and I felt very good about the entire experience. It appeared that I had made some progress, that the world had made some progress in that instant of time with those young folks. We got in the van and drove on towards Mt. Douglas, commonly known as Mt. Doug, our next destination. Driving to the top, I was still hopeful that I would find the “Ladies” or a Red Admiral. Getting out of the car and clamoring around the rocks at the peak I found nothing. Perhaps it was time to go home. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw something large and bright and I turned. I didn’t care that these were not the butterflies I was looking for. At this point, finding ANY butterflies would be a blessing to me for I had never seen so few nor witnessed such a cool spring, aside from a handful of days where temperatures reached seasonal levels.
Out of desperation I scrambled through bushes and weeds, nearly twisting my ankle, which was careless of me, but such is the way of things when finding something I so desperately wanted to see; another butterfly or even two. Yes! There they were, gliding around a grove of Oceanspray shrubs. Two beautiful Pale Swallowtails. There was no mistaking the wide black margins or the creamy-white “stripes”. And this was the right habitat for them as well. I have seen more Pale Swallowtails this year than in any previous year and have no idea why that is. Though nearly always at higher elevations, I have also found them near sea level as well. I have read that the males “cruise” around at higher elevations looking for prospective mates. There has been some speculation on the part of one long-time enthusiast about whether they hybridize with Western Tigers, but according to John Acorn’s “Butterflies of British Columbia” they do not, and I certainly have not seen what I would call a hybrid, ever. A faded Western Tiger can “appear” to look like a Pale Swallowtail, but the Western Tiger has thinner black margins and black stripes and their lighter areas are more evident than on the Pale. In flight, there really is no mistaking a Pale with a Western Tiger. And in this case, I was happy to see two…probably both males as they were fighting over territory.
I began to sing my little butterfly song, a song with no words. Really, I think it is to calm ME down so I become invisible to the butterfly rather than a vibrational “lure” to the butterfly. It doesn’t matter because it usually works, and today was no exception.
The circling Pale landed several times on a leaf or on Oceanspray….plenty of time for me to get the shots I so wanted.
And then something came flying in to chase it off!! It was a Red Admiral! It was only there long enough for me to get a good look at the circle of red on it’s upper wings, and then after a brief instant, it vanished!! Although the Pale returned and landed and I waited and waited, the Red Admiral didn’t return and neither John nor I could find it anywhere.
I didn’t mind. There is still a lot of summer to go as it has barely begun. And it was my turn to say, “Man, I’m just sweating!”. John helped me get back out of the little miniature grove I had scrambled down to and, very tired in a good way, we headed off.
Glad as I was of my Red Admiral sighting and shots of the Pale Swallowtails, my mind kept going back to the experience on Mt. Tolmie with those three fresh young faces, lit up with wonder at the literal “first hand” experience of that Lorquin’s Admiral. Maybe the future isn’t so bleak, if we can get young people involved in our environment and pass along what we know, and more importantly, listen to their voices of protest about what we will be leaving them to inherit.
Perhaps the silent voices of our butterflies isn’t as silent as I thought. Time will tell…yes,time will tell…
It holds the magic of the butterfly…
Amongst the brambles and the Ocean Spray,
I found myself within a special place.
I found eyes searching in a youthful way—
I found some hope within each fresh new face.
Together, joined by Nature’s blissful grace,
two butterflies gave all of us a chance
to share Her secret reproductive race—
two butterflies in procreative dance.
Three youths, with hopeful eyes, spoke to my heart
and to a butterfly, held out a hand.
It heard their silent screaming, helpless cry,
and came upon those fingers in the sand.
And in that hand soon all our fates will lie—
it holds the magic of the butterfly…
Dedicated to T.J., Peter and Mackenzie with thanks for letting us share your experience and recount it to our readers. May you keep hope alive within your generous hearts as well as your love and respect for Nature and willingness to learn more about preserving It.
© Annie Pang June 29, 2012.