Thursday, July 30, 2020
Exquisite Litle Gems
This summer I've been taking an online field course in butterfly identification and ecology. Online and field may seem like contradicting terms, but, as with most things in the world of 2020, even nature has moved onto the internet. This format, of video chats and lectures interspersed with self-directed field work, is ideal for me this summer, when leaving home is both difficult (we are down to two vehicles for the three adults in the house, and the two of them with real jobs get dibs) and terrifying (I'm not sure which is scarier, the deadly virus or the lawn signs and flags championing the two people responsible for making the United States so virulent). When I need a break from writing or editing or housework or the inside of my own head, I grab my net, my binoculars, and my field guide and walk up the driveway to where our wild, raggedy field meets our neighbors' manicured lawn. Here on the edge, where milkweed blooms, is where I find most of my butterflies.
And find butterflies I do! Almost every day that I go out, as long as the sun is shining, I discover new-to-me species. In the six weeks of the class so far, I've identified more than 40 species of butterfly, about three-quarters of which I've never seen before, and even more of which I've never seen here on our property. How can I have missed all these exquisite little gems of creatures that have been here, sipping nectar and dancing over the flowers, for the last twenty years? It's as if my dresser drawers are full of emeralds and sapphires and rubies that I never notice because all I do is reach in and pull out socks and underwear.
I can draw two conclusions from this oversight: 1) I'm a rubbish naturalist; or 2) we don't truly see what we don't look for. There are a lot of terrible things going on in the world today—illness, death, vicious people intentionally trying to make others less safe, other people doing the same out of ignorance. I go looking for these stories every day when I read the news. But there must be other stories out there, too, the exquisite gems of courage, kindness, and generosity, if only we knew how to look.
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