A Wide-Ranging Search for Northern Species

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Boulder, en route to Gray’s River
The latter half of August has been a giant crazy-eight, a last-gasp effort to find Northern species before Autumn’s embrace — if Kentucky can be called Northern! I began by driving Powdermilk through Idaho and Montana, seeking Christina Sulphurs and Hayden’s Ringlets; then E. Utah for Nokomis Fritillaries and big Yuma Skippers. From Denver, I flew to Maine to track down Dorcas and Bog Coppers, white admirals, Atlantis Fritillaries… and to hear John Piot’s 40-drum steel band, Flash in the Pan. Then to the subtropical heat and rain of Cairo, Illinois, where the Ohio and Mississippi meet in bald cypress swamps and canebrakes. This paper plate led to my rendezvous with Jim Wiker & Sally Agnew. Jim guided me deep into wet habitats replete with uncommon satyrs, skippers, and carnivorous, Halloween-hued Harvesters. Onward in the rented Bronze Copper from one end of Kentucky to another, past “butterflies already yellow with August,” as Ezra Pound had it, to meet stunning Diana. Back to Colorado by rail, WY, NE, SD, home — and summer is over.

When I returned to Illinois, it wasn’t for the scenes on the reverse, but for this one. Here I witnessed three (all 3) kinds of pearly eyes sipping sap at the same tree, at the same time, in a light rain at dusk. In that same canebrake I collected over 100 chiggers — all over my body. It was just about worth it!

Weaving the ridges of the KY-VA-WV borders, in deep Appalachia, I beheld the enormities of mountaintop removal for coal, and wound through one sorry little coal town and fouled stream after another. But, it was the way of life, as logging has been where I live. I paused in Matewan, scene of the labor battle leading to the infamous “massacre” of miners by company goons. This is also the heart of Hatfield-McCoy country. “Bygones are bygones,” I was told by Cathy McCoy, who then went on to tell me of the massacre of McCoys by the Hatfields. My overall impression of this land, where towns are named Majestic, Lovely, and Beauty, is one of a conflicted landscape —

and a people not without their own conflicts. But also a place of courtesy, difficult and distinctive dialect, and actual beauty in the hills, when they escape the coal-shovel. And, I saw one of the great butterfly spectacles of the entire year here in Matewan. It was on the site of yet another feud — a rip-rapped riverbank slope above the Tug Fork, where Buddleia davidii (butterfly bush) and kudzu were struggling for dominance. There, an astonishing array of butterflies thronged the purple Buddleia: hundreds of swallowtails, fritillaries, ladies, skippers, and others — 21 species in all. They included scores of big, flashy silver-spotted skippers, whose larvae — with their red, yellow-spotted heads like a coal miner’s hard-hat and headlamp — quite happily feed on kudzu.

Though I spent most nights of my Appalachian swing in my rental car, the Bronze Copper, I did splurge for a night (and a desperately needed shower) here at this inn. Once a state-of-the-art company town school, it held children until 1992. (The school up the road was for “colored” kids.) It has since become a pleasant hostelry, situated hard below Big Black Mountain, the highest point in Kentucky, and a classic locale for the big, black and blue fritillary known as Diana — my reason for coming.

And another great old inn: Glen Isle Lodge, in Bailey, Colorado, type locality for Mead’s Wood Nymph. My mother, brother, and I stayed here in 1964 to seek that butterfly, and I also had my first honeymoon here in 1966. Glen-Isle is essentially, amazingly unchanged — right down to the proprietor, Mrs. Barbara Tripp, who was there on both those earlier visits! In nearby S. Platte Canyon, with biologist Boyce Drummond, I saw the Fed. endangered b’fly, the Pawnee Montane Skipper. And after the field, Antler Ale at the Bucksnort Saloon in Sphinx Park, a pink-granite Brigadoon in a narrow Front Range Canyon.


  1. Robert!

    Blog-goers long to know, HOW did that most adroitly a-maze-d paper plate lead to rendezvous with Jim Wiker & Sally Agnew?

    And, while commenting, must remark on what a winsome photo Boyce (cent’ anni, Boyce) took of that Skipper (may it be ever innocent of its endangerment) amid effulgent flowers (may they be ever innocent of the exotic pests who persecute plants for existing) — and ask, did you all have a thought as to why the near antenna appears to be held askew?

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