Of Butterflies and Brothers

Last weekend my oldest brother and I went to Iron Mountain in Siskiyou Mountains to look for unusual plants and butterflies. Stanley is 73, ten-years older than I. Because he was older, we did not do much together as children, but I remember him taking me on some walks along the Walla Walla River where we saw a Black-chinned Hummingbird and Lewis Woodpecker. Stanley still talks about that walk.

Stanley, who has never married, shapes the narrative of his personal history around nature: what he saw where and when. His markers are butterflies, birds, and wildflowers. Of his time in Vietnam while in the army, he speaks of the birds and animals he saw from his guard tower. He was stationed near Washington, D. C. for a while, but only speaks of the birds and flowers he saw on the trails along the Potomac.

I knew that this trip to Iron Mountain would be another historical marker for Stanley. Iron Mountain hosts several unusual plant communities—the carnivorous cobra lilies and California lady slippers. Many wildflowers, however, had already bloomed by mid-July, so our attention was focused on the butterflies.

We drove down a spur that led to some mountain streams and seeps only to discover the road washed out. We parked and picked our way carefully across the mud and rocks to the other side. Eventually we came to roadside bogs full of cobra lilies, green bog orchids, and bog asphodel. Butterflies sipped nectar from the wild azalea and Labrador tea still blooming.

Along the way I swung the butterfly net and caught butterflies. I missed more than I caught. As we trudged along the road, two fat disheveled old men, Stanley spoke of Dad taking him for nature walks in Prospect, Oregon and Orofino, Idaho. He explained that he had been clumsy even as a child and that Dad had netted about half of the butterflies in his collection.

Today we were just catching and releasing. I caught some Northern Checkerspots, Western Swallowtails, Lorquin’s Admirals. Each time I handed Stanley the net with the butterfly for identification, I thought about how I was doing for Stanley what my father had done.

I was thankful for my father’s kindness to his clumsy first son. I was thankful for the example of compassion he showed his youngest. I am sure Stanley will never forget that on this trip we saw a Nevada Arctic dancing over an unnamed mountain stream.

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About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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