Tuesday, June 30, 2015


            A marriage works best when each person knows his or her role. This is especially true for men because most of us stumble through marriage in a confused brain-fog, no matter how clear our hearts may be.
            Examples of role-based brain-fog abound.
·      When Kim suggests, “Let’s not exchange gifts this Christmas,” the foghorn in the back of my skull goes off, and I look for clues while preparing back-up plans.
·      Kim does almost all of the cooking, except for coffee-making and wine-pouring, but once in a while I offer to cook, and she is grateful. But when I ask her for step-by-step instructions, she says, “Oh, I’ll just do it.” What’s with that?
·       “Does this dress make me look fat?”
            Which is why I was delighted when Kim signed up for the Michigan Butterfly Survey and I was given a clear role: Scribe. That’s my job. That’s what I am expected to do. Nothing else. Scribe. Put marks next to names of butterflies as Kim called them to me. Sounds boring, perhaps, but we do it outside in a beautiful location, the Leonard Preserve, a rambling meadow in rural southeastern Michigan.
            I learned my role on a training run. Kim was to walk our prescribed path at a slow pace, noting all the butterflies she could see within 16 feet of the path. She could leave the path to identify them, but only ones within the 32 feet could count. As Scribe, I was to note what she saw using the list of most likely butterflies on a page attached to my clipboard, with room for write-ins and unknowns. I also noted starting and ending time, temperature, wind, cloud cover, and how my investments were doing on the stock market. My job was clear. I was not to help identify butterflies (an easy requirement for me), or even to see one and say, “Hey! There’s a butterfly!” The idea, in the name of science, was to use a consistent and controlled procedure for our required six trips to our site.
            This was different from my usual procedure when Kim and I go birding, where I act like a bird dog: pointing and saying, “There’s one,” which Kim shoots (with her camera) and identifies. And this differs from when we go out to photograph butterflies, where I learn, again and again, that I should not point at the butterflies because that spooks them.
            My role, however, turned out to be not as easy as it sounds. First, I needed to walk behind Kim so she could see both sides of the path. (Though I take the lead in many things, when birding and butterflying I usually walk behind her because I enjoy the view.) Kim was worried that my walking behind her might unman me by suggesting that I am not the leader and decision-maker in our family, but she reassured me that she lets me make a lot of the decisions.
            I also had to combine my role of Scribe with my role as Sherpa, for I was carrying the water (only one bottle), the butterfly field guide, binoculars (which I never used) and my camera, which I used to balance the weight of the other stuff I was carrying. Plus some snack bars. And the clipboard. And a pen! That’s not much stuff, I know, but I managed to make it difficult. Call it a knack.
            The cameras – Kim’s and mine – were another problem. We were supposed to be counting butterflies, not photographing them. Not a problem for me, for I couldn’t juggle the clipboard and the camera so, monotasker that I am, on our first two surveys I only took a couple of one-handed blurry ones, and by our third survey I learned to leave my camera home. But Kim is a nature photographer. It gets to the core of her appreciation of beauty, and there is no way she will bypass a great shot of a beautiful butterfly on a flower – or even on coyote poop – just because her primary goal is supposed to be counting! So she did both. Our surveys have taken us a bit longer than they should, but if we do it that way every time, then science will be served as well as art.
            My difficulties as Scribe deepened when Kim added another role: Shademaker. Sometimes the butterflies she was photographing were in uneven patches of sunlight and shade, and when this happened, I was occasionally called upon the create shade for her subject. This is not as easy as it sounds, for it involves, first, locating where the sun is, and second, not stepping on the butterfly that you are attempting to shade. Kim only asked me to do this twice.
            The hardest part of my job was restraining myself when I saw a really cool butterfly that Kim missed. She saw over 40 Pearl Crescents and Little Wood Satyrs on our first walk, and about that many European Skippers on our second, so I ignored any of those she missed – in the name of scientific process. But when I saw a Baltimore Checkerspot about 15 feet from the path, I developed a coughing fit until Kim saw it too. I had about three such coughing fits each day. There was a lot of pollen. And even more on the day when the hairstreaks appeared.

Pearl Crescent

Little Wood Satyr

European Skipper

Delaware Skipper

Baltimore Checkerspots (Mating) Check-Mate?

            The above paragraph may suggest I can identify butterflies. I can’t. Kim IDs them and calls the names back to me. I make marks on a paper. I can, however, distinguish the males from the females of most species without seeing their very private parts. The males are the ones who are usually “wrong” and “don’t get it.” But that’s another story.
            On our third survey, we saw the beautiful hairstreaks – enough of them so we returned two days later, armed with cameras and free from clipboard.

Acadian Hairstreak

Hickory Hairstreak

Banded Hairstreak

             This meant that I became immersed in butterfly identification, which will be the subject of a later posting.

Spring Azure (After June 1 it's a Summer Azure) (Really)

Bronze Copper

Eastern Comma

Great Spangled Fritillary

Silvery Checkerspot

Silver-spotted Skipper

We have been unable to identify this skipper. Any ideas?

            Suffice it to say that I learned that butterfly identification is really quite easy. The hard part is identifying them correctly.

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