My two week land-sea cruise in Alaska was filled with beautiful, memorable museums, animal sightings, flowers, and panoramas. As I related some of the sights to my family, I realized it’s the people you meet, you remember the most.
A Memorable Character
Fatigue from a long day in Fairbanks prompted me to join my friend for dinner in the hotel restaurant. As we started in on our local specialties, we kept hearing music. As soon as we paid the bill, we walked into the lobby and there was a duo taking requests from a small gathering of hotel guests.
Soon we learned the guitarist was named Earl Hughes and he worked at an attraction called Dredge 8. After he and the pianist took a short break, the audience dwindled to four of us. We kept him busy another set with John Denver, Beatles, and a few country selection requests. It seemed he was ready to pack up, when he asks if we would like a demo tape on CD. Each of us nods an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
He signed and dated a CD for each of us. I’m not much for buying trinkets on trips, but I’ll always treasure this CD.
Seeing him again
The next day, our tour included Dredge 8. Sure enough, there was Earl on the train with his guitar. He even waved to us as the train continued onto the the big attraction, panning for gold. As we took our few flakes of gold to have them weighed, Earl was once again nearby. I smile remembering his joy in having the opportunity to play a few songs and visit with folks.
Lots of friendly people in Alaska
There were many more connections, nearly everyday. Summer experiences shared by vacationers, young and old traveling to Alaska for summer employment, and tour guides who were native or chose to make Alaska their home. However, Earl is one of those people you meet you remember the most.
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
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.”
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.
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?
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.