Common Buckeye

“It seems really interesting to me that you recently started obsessively photographing butterflies, and now life has put you in a position where you have to see if you can fly.” — Trailhead friend Krista Cox.

There’s a patch of thistle within a short walk of my house, across a greenway from some soccer fields and near a field of prairie plants. When the rains came back in August, life exploded again, and overnight the Thistle Patch was hopping like a dive bar for nectar-swilling pollinators. Indiana does not have much in the way of wilderness — at least on the large scale. But when you drill down to the small world, wilderness is abundant here.  The Thistle Patch is my second office, because I’ve spent hours there this summer with my camera, trying to avoid sitting on bumblebees.

In addition to the Thistle Patch, I’ve learned that the coyote fields are home to all manner of butterflies and other creatures. When I step off the manicured suburban grass and into the coyote field, it seems like there is nothing about, and everything is still. Then all at once a grasshopper, perhaps startled by my foot, will leap noisily from a blade of prairie grass. This sets off a chain reaction of hopping, leaping and flying amid springing legs and flapping wings as creatures erupt from the grasses to escape me and my lens. It happens just this way every time.

I have to wander aimlessly through the hip-high grasses for a moderate distance before the first butterfly I see — whether a tiny gray hairstreak or a swallowtail bigger than my hand — leads me into the geography of the field, and it starts to make sense. From my sunroom the place looks like an undifferentiated expanse of prairie grasses, but from within, it’s a butterfly’s home.

Checkered skipper.

Yesterday when I encountered this checkered skipper for the first time, I had the most overly dramatic thought: for a moment, I understood why early people sought god. How could something so small and easily missed be so lovely, and what created it? What’s this tiny butterfly for if not the grace of the god who crafted it?

I’m not particularly religious, but I do believe in a creative force.  And although it’s an appealing thought to imagine a God conjuring up a checkered skipper, I’m not quite that literal. But I suspect that the forces that shaped the skipper are akin to the forces that created the world’s great works of art. But the skipper, I think, exists for its own glory, because that’s enough.

I think my friend Krista is right about my butterfly obsession. Life is churning again, and it’s back into the crucible for me. Part of me is very comfortable there, but I still have to be dragged from my comfort zone, and sometimes my progress through life seems so sluggish. To sit in the thistle and watch these tiny little works of art zing effortlessly from one place to another is inspiring. And I do envy them.

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2 thoughts on “A lotta lepidoptera

  1. Were you able to identify all these types of butterflies before you started photographing them? Or did that come as you tried to identify your pictures? Sometimes just knowing what you’re looking at helps you appreciate it.

    1. Not at first. I started getting into this last spring when I was visiting the ponds at my old house. At that point I started visiting butterfliesandmoths.org, and started sort of organically learning what was what. Now I mostly know what I’m looking at, but when I see something new I start all over again.

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