Exercise in Description, part I

– Several Species of Butterflies Observed on a Sandy Road –

Across the locks, from where I could watch a lazy alligator float about, I turned down a service road off to the left. Two ruts of brownish sand ducked in and out of the patchy grass which in some places lifted a lonely knee-high stalk already bowing with its feathery seeds. Where the rainwater could pool the grass was a dark green and the numerous, tiny, five-pointed “Tread Lightlies”, of a pale lavender, made these spots seem like shattered pieces of the starflecked sky. In other places small, burningyellow, quadratepetaled sort of primroses on fuzzy stems nodded amid their fine pinnate leaves, like drowsy worshippers of the sun — all summer an endless Sunday service.

Then my peripheral vision caught a sudden flash of white, like an erasure in the greenery, and I saw a butterfly, which my lack of knowledge deemed a diminutive Cabbage White, skipping without much method low above the (or above the low?) ground. It reeled once as a red dragonfly like a jellybean with wings zipped past. I tried to get a good look, but they were both soon gone. Happily, there were others.

A large one crossed my path. Its wings seemed totally black, but on a quick turn flashed bits of yellow and orange on the undersides. Ostensibly they have such a slipshod way of flying about (drunker than gnats), yet it had no problem evading me and slipping neatly into the dense undergrowth, behind a palmetto flush with Virginia creeper. I think it was a swallowtail.

Another one paused almost before my face, on the bulb of a dead orchid, on a low Live-Oak bough, amid the withered Resurrection Ferns. Hypnotically it opened and closed its cream colored wings rimmed with rich brown. Its body was a grayish blue and looked like a smudge of Ash Wednesday ash.

Then a fourth danced across the grasses and the tiny wildflowers. Its wings were a deep rust, darkest at the base and brightening towards the edges as if the vigor of flying rarefied the color, fanning the gathered pile of corrosion beneath a disintegrating bolt.

Finally, a darting fellow with the body of a sleek cicada alighted on I don’t know what kind of spikey red bloom, dipping in its filament-like tongue. By now my eyes were extraordinarily sharp and allowed me to savor the details of its splendid wings. On a background of an almost uniform azure, shapeless globs of white, like drips of paint, accumulated at the base of the wings and spread outwards towards the edges until — when they were far enough apart — they acquired a fine, dark border of brown. I was reminded of a dense layer of stratus clouds, thick at the horizon and dissolving at the zenith into the brilliant blue. Perhaps my favorite of all sky scenes.

Lepidopterists, if you can supply me with names I shall be in your debt!


~ by Peter on March 9, 2008.

One Response to “Exercise in Description, part I”

  1. Well, I’m no Lepidopterist, but that is wonderful descriptive writing, pieces of the sky in the scenery, and the description of their flight pattern was perfect too. Once again, immaculate, stylish and resonant writing.

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