Signs of Spring – The Blue Hairslip And A Brief Rant in Praise of Spring

We’ve had a few sunny days with highs around 60. I suppose I could get used to that, if we had a few more days of it. But the wind has been in the southeast, and that’s a sign of rain, which is forecast for the next week or so. I guess you can’t have spring without rain, and some strong breezes.

I take a special interest in butterflies, because like a lot of kids interested in nature, I collected them. When I lived near the Conodoguinet Creek, a beautiful tributary of the Susquehanna, I could walk up to a weedy field and wack a few clumps of weeds with my net and watch the butterflies explode into flight. There would be maybe twenty-five butterflies in a dozen species, all in a few square feet of habitat. I came back from college one year in the late sixties and visited some of those places again. Something like 90% of the butterflies were gone. That was one obvious toll of DDT. The peregrine falcon took a similar hit, along with a lot of other species that are harder to see. The butterflies still haven’t recovered, because we continue to do stupid things. By 1986 United States Department of Agriculture data showed that farmers lost the same percentage of crops – about 10% – to insect damage as they did in the early 1940s, despite the fact that they were using 90% more pesticides. In part, that’s because the birds that eat the insects have also declined (from 30-50% in the last thirty years), due to the same chemicals.

Anyway, I saw the first butterfly today, a Blue Hairslip. I may have seen a moth or two before this afternoon, not that I can identify them, but this was the first butterfly. Sometimes, it’s the Mourning Cloak, but that’s been rare around here lately. Their favorite larval host plant is supposed to be the black willow, so I planted a few of them a week or two ago. They were sourced from the Native Forest Nursery over in Chatsworth, which is a wholesale outfit. They will retail, but the prices are higher than on the website, and you have a ten plant minimum order. You have to call them and order ahead, and they’ll tell you when you can pick them up. I went together with another guy, who is more experienced than I am, and we were both really impressed with the product. The one gallon size, which we were expecting would be about a foot high, was actually about five feet high. Apparently, they supply for a lot of restoration work.

Anyway, the Red Spotted Purple is usually the next butterfly after the Hairslips and the Mourning Cloaks, if there are any.

I kind of felt a bit envious of the Hairslip, obviously having a great time flying around in the sun, presumably knowing nothing about how its species is doomed due to climate change and lying, shortsighted politicians in the pay of greedy chemical companies who don’t care about anything but profits. It probably doesn’t worry about these things, just finding a mate, finding its host plant and laying some eggs. Perpetuating the species, something it seems increasing likely that the human species will fail to accomplish.

The Lakota say that before you do anything, you should consider the effects on seven generations. And that’s not just seven generations of us, it’s seven generations of everything, because the Lakota see the world as a web of relations – how’s that for ecological smarts – not a hierarchy with man at the top.

It wasn’t just the Lakota, of course. When it’s all over, Chief Seattle may have had the last word on the human race: “Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.”

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