The wilderness around the corner

For the more intrepid sojourner, the word “wilderness” may conjure up visions of Death Valley, the Alaska Peninsula or the Atchafalaya Swamp. For a soon-to-be 2-year-old and a soon-to-be 6-year-old, a wilderness may be as close as a nearby weedy hillside.

Maddie (nearly 2), Izzy (nearly 6) and I (nearly ... never mind) explored just such a wilderness the other afternoon. With binoculars and butterfly net in hand, we set off on a safari in the wilds next to Barber’s Orchard.

It was a beautiful early autumn afternoon, clear skies, temps in the high 60s to low 70s, and a slight breeze. The jumbled mix of goldenrods, asters, brambles and assorted other wildflowers bubbled with migrating monarchs and other butterflies. Izzy was a butterfly net wielding whirling dervish. We soon had three, bright, healthy, female monarchs in our butterfly cage.

I had stopped to hold the cage for Maddy so she could get a better look at the butterflies when I hear calls of “Daddy! Daddy!” I looked up to see Izzy sitting in the dim road, clutching the mesh of the butterfly net, her head barely above the tall grass.

“I’ve got a different one, Daddy,” she said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I dunno. I think a fritillary.”

Izzy came down the road to us, holding the freshest Gulf fritillary I have ever seen. The dorsal side of this large (3-inch wingspan) butterfly was a rich burnt orange with black etchings and bright, white dots ringed with black on each forewing. Large, irregular silver spots glowed from the undersides of the hindwing and top of the forewing separated by a band of salmon pink decorated with small white spots.

Izzy’s butterfly catching prowess netted us two pipevine swallowtails and one cabbage white to go with the monarchs and fritillary. Other butterflies identified included a black swallowtail, a black female eastern tiger swallowtail and a common buckeye. One or more species of sulphur was present, but I never got a good enough look to ID one.

Maddy is a butterfly catcher in training. She would take the net, plop it over the top of a patch of asters and shout, “Got one!” She did partake in the release ceremony, gingerly taking one of the pipevines from Izzy then releasing it while encouraging it to “fly way!”

Daddy took note of a few feathered migrants that passed through while we were on butterfly safari. The list included a large flight of chimney swifts, Swainson’s thrush, rose-breasted grosbeak, common yellowthroat, Tennessee warbler and magnolia warbler.

The only way we will ever succeed in preserving the wild places on the planet is by nurturing the wild places in the hearts of our children.

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