A Multitude of Butterflies

I gifted myself with a walk in one of my favorite places, Bok Tower Gardens, and the Universe gifted me with a multitude of butterflies.

Family responsibilities kept me busy until late morning to finally start my walk around noon. As I surveyed the skies to gauge the need for an umbrella, a sea of light blue was a foil for an occasional fluffy white cloud. I opted to carry a full bottle of water to replenish the sweat I knew would serve to keep me cool, leaving my umbrella behind.

Choosing a Different Path

Rather than walk one of the older paths that lead toward the tower or Pinewood Estate, I chose to walk through the Wild Garden, where landscape designers have worked with a local native plant nursery to recreate the ecological zones that occur in Central Florida—Piney Flatwoods, Oak Hammock, Wet Prairie, And Bog.

As I walked through the Piney Flatwoods, the first zone, I was surprised to see so many blooming plants during the heat of early August. There were maypop (Passiflora), goldenrod (Salidago), and sunflowers (Helianthus). I saw an occasional yellow cabbage butterfly, but none close enough or still enough to photograph.

My First Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly
Monarch Butterfly

Rather than eating the nectar of a flower, my first butterfly, a monarch, was resting on an oak leaf in the transition area between the Piney Flatwoods and the Oak Hammock. He sat there a long time, giving me ample opportunity to focus my phone and capture a shot of him. Starting off again, I paused to look up and was rewarded with the striking silhouette of a large air plant (Tillandsia) against the cumulus clouds and the blue sky.

The Wet Prairie

Taking a left off the main walk, I entered the Wet Prairie. There were many yellow butterfly weed plants (Asclepius) and something quite small on a blossom just beyond the capability of my phone camera. “Why hadn’t I brought my camera?” I mused. As I looked more closely, I realized that this little creature was similar to the small butterflies I saw during my time volunteering for the Butterfly Count in Colorado, a member of the brush foots family, known as a phaon crescent butterfly.

Taking a few photos from too far away, I was disappointed with the results and moved along the wide elevated wooden path. I noticed a few plants in the distance that looked very much like cannabis. “That can’t be right.”

Crescent Butterfly
Crescent Butterfly

Meanwhile, two of the little crescents had moved along the path with me, performing their aerial dance among the ground ferns. Once again, I couldn’t catch them in a photo. Then one seemed to read my mind and know my desire. He landed almost at my feet, just off the path on a contrasting green leaf, resting with his wings open for a perfect shot. I felt so lucky to have two photos of butterflies less than halfway through my walk.

Hibiscus coccineus
Marsh Hibiscus

Here at the edge of the Wet Prairie, just before the Bog, I came across the cannabis imposter in full bloom. The large red petals and large center spike with many stamens immediately identified it in the mallow family, which also includes hibiscus. There was no sign of the butterflies. Perhaps they had already visited the shimmering nectars before I arrived. Do you see a different type of insect sitting on the petal?

The Bog

Many different species of pitcher plants (Nepenthes) greeted me in the Bog. It isn’t bloom time, but their hues of lime green and burgundy are always a delight. There were small tickseed flowers (Coreopsis) sprinkled about and woody St. John’s wort (Hypericum) along the drier edges. Yellow seems to be the primary color for native flowers here in August.

The Butterfly Playground

I took a shortcut along a service path where native firebush (Hamelin) had been planted in abundance. These orange and yellow tubular flowers are a favorite of the official Florida butterfly, the zebra longwing (Heliconius). A placard explained their habit of roosting together in the camouflage of the trees from dusk until mid-morning, in an effort to thwart birds looking for a tasty meal.

The air was thick as thunder rolled in the near distance, but I was transfixed by a multitude of butterflies—zebra longwings and much larger swallowtails (Papilio) immersed in an aerial dance above the firebush growing along the edge of the manicured garden. After trying unsuccessfully to catch a photo, I changed to video. There were at least five longwings cavorting among the pine needles and I managed to capture two of them. The swallowtails were always just out of the range of my lens, seeming to giggle at my attempts to film them.

Central Florida in mid-summer usually spikes above 90 degrees F with the humidity at 70% or higher. Sweat was dripping down my back and along my face. As the sky threatened, growing darker every minute, I spotted a gulf fritillary (Agraulis) in the gloom, posed against the fresh pale yellow paint on a stuccoed wall. I captured my last shot of a butterfly and made a beeline for the café and a cool glass of fresh Florida’s Natural orange juice.

Later, as I navigated the twisting road past the citrus groves of Mountain Lake toward the exit, visions of a multitude of butterflies danced in my mind’s eye, fresh memories to savor and share.

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My Alaskan Adventure in Fairbanks

Come along on my Alaskan adventure as I visit Fairbanks. This isn’t my first trip to Alaska, but this time is very different. I’m on a two-week land and sea cruise, starting on land. During my previous trip, I focused on heading to and past the Arctic Circle.

Fairbanks – Educational and Inspiring

Arriving a day early I started right in on my Alaskan adventure. I was familiar with public transportation in Denver, but you never know how well another system will work out. I’m happy to say, it was great. My companions and I easily traveled everywhere we wanted to go. We felt safe and privileged meeting some local Alyeskans (the native word for Alaska). And a big plus is the price – free for anyone 60 and over. We saw a lot of Fairbanks that we would have missed otherwise.

Fairbanks Visitor Center

Athabaskan youth sharing beading knowhow
Athabaskan youth beading

Our first stop was the visitor center. I highly recommend spending time at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center. We learned about local history, native culture, how locals have fun all year long, and about native plants and animals.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks

Museum of the North
UofA Museum of the North

We jumped back onto the MAC blue line bus and stopped at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Two of my group visited the museum and loved it. My friend and I opted to take a walk down the hill to the Georgeson Botanical Garden. It was fabulous! As Master Gardeners in our past lives and loving gardens of all types, we were excited learning about local gardening from fellow gardeners. For instance, we talked to a volunteer working in the perennial beds who told us how hot it’s been. Coming from Florida, we were thrilled with the 80 degree weather and thought it’s pleasantly cool. The volunteer also told us about the weird elongated ‘blueberries’ we’d seen, called honeyberries. Bird netting covered the bushes,  saving the super sweet morsels for humans.

Day 2 – On the Tour

The next day we joined our Holland America Tour group, visiting two popular spots. When I looked at the brochures and marketing information, I thought, “This will be touristy and hokey”. Boy was I wrong!

Dredge 8

The whole gold rush history was something I missed during my previous visit in 2003. And panning for gold sounded like fun. But Dredge 8 offered so much more.

First, as we exited the parking lot, there stood the Alaskan pipeline, right in front of us. A group gathered around a demonstration section of the pipeline with an opening to see the mechanism that keeps the interior of the pipe clean. Our experience began with a detailed explanation how the pipeline benefits Alaska, all residents, and eliminates concerns for wildlife and the environment.

My Alaskan adventure in Fairbanks
Fun on Dredge 8

Next, we took a ride along the rails, moving us through the history of gold mining in the area up to the dredges used until the 1950’s. It was fascinating to hear about the dredge, and later we climbed up to the third level and ‘manned’ the controls of this huge mechanical artifact of Alaskan history.

But I can’t forget the panning for gold! Amazingly, I could actually do it, thanks to the patience and expertise of our gold panning expert. My bag of tailing gravel produced $12 of gold for my efforts. What fun! Above all, don’t miss the delicious complimentary coffee and cookies.

Riverboat Discovery

This tour is a treasure. It truly is a multi-generational family running an enterprise with the son at the helm and the 90+ matriarch waving to us both from the landing and at  her home along the Tanana River.

Athabaskan Winter Coat

One of the highlights of the tour was time spent at the sight of an Athabaskan Indian Village. Our young hosts first explained their personal native culture heritage and then demonstrated and explained every facet of their 10,000 year tradition in Alyeska, including how they view their place in the web of life.

Once again, the snack bars on the riverboat offered complimentary coffee sweetened with tasty blueberry doughnuts at the beginning of the riverboat trip and then with salmon dip on a cracker as we headed back to the landing.

The Thread that Wove Through My Days

Wherever I pursued my Alaskan adventure in Fairbanks, I  saw smiling, enthusiastic, respectful, and friendly young people spending their summer vacations, working in Alaska. Furthermore, full time residents had the same character. There is something in the summer Alaskan air  that lifts spirits and brings smiles to everyone’s face, residents and visitors alike.