Butterflies and “Women Writing the Environment Into Fiction”

Monarch on lavender Photo: Katy Pye

Monarch on lavender
Photo: Katy Pye

Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior, photography, ignorance, and a meadow walk aligned like personal, fated stars one day last month.

My first photography show, Flora abunda is a wildflower image exhibit at CA State Parks’ Ford House Museum. As a hobby photographer and rank amateur in biology and botany, pulling all the pieces together has been a delightful, if sometimes challenging, eye-opener. A local expert made sure my plant i.d.s were correct, and pointed out, in passing, two plants that are food sources for the immature stage of two rare and endangered butterflies: the Behren’s Silverspot and the Lotis Blue – a species considered extinct here for over 30 years.

Behren’s silverspot (Speyeria zerene behrensii) Source:http://espm42speyeria.wordpress.com/

Behren’s silverspot (Speyeria zerene behrensii)
Source:http://espm42speyeria. wordpress.com/

Lotis Blue  photo: PG & E

Lotis Blue (Lycaeides idas lotis) photo: PG & E

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While compiling the show, I was also writing a short article for the San Francisco Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. They wanted my thoughts on women authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Elizabeth Gilbert, Ann Patchett who, like me, feature the environment (and related human interactions and impacts) in current novels. I’d recently read Flight Behavior and Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things back-to-back. One afternoon flower photos, Latin names, endangered lives, words and themes clogged my brain. I headed out to a nearby forest park and meadow to strain the mental debris. As I stepped out of the woods into the bright, grassland light, I had a my own “Dellarobia” moment.

Spring azure (likely). A common butterfly.  Photo: Katy Pye

Spring azure (likely). A common butterfly. Weren’t all our now endangered species once “common?”
Photo: Katy Pye

A blue butterfly, barely bigger than a quarter, lit on a grass blade beside me. My feet became one with the path.

The Lotis! It’s got to be. Can’t be. “Are you?” I asked.

It took less than ten minutes to get home, retrieve my camera, and return to the spot. As I crept closer, it seemed impossible he would still be there. Ten minutes in butterfly years is probably twenty human years. He had precious little life to spend waiting for me. I’m sure I heard his rebuke at my approach.

“Finally! You people fly so slow.”

“Just give me a few seconds,” I pleaded, snapping shot after shot.

For a few hours I rode on hope he was the Lotis. Turns out he’s naught but a common variety blue. Still, my encounter proves–as if it needs proving–books fire imagination and the best ones, connection.

My WNBA blog post: “Women Writing the Environment Into Fiction”

Flora abunda wildflower exhibit continues until June 30th, 11:00 to 4:00 daily. Opening reception Saturday, April 12, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Sponsored by the Mendocino Area Parks Association (M.A.P.A.)

Trillium albidum copyright Katy Pye

Trillium albidum
Photo: Katy Pye

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