The Wait for Butterflyweed

Large Clump of Butterflyweed photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

My grandson and I reveled in one of the world’s finest stands of Butterflyweed this past June. I revisited Doak field in Raccoon Creek State Park with him, and I told him how much I loved those 2 weeks or so each year when the Asclepias (milkweed) was in bloom. More than that, I told him how this was the first time that one of my grandchildren ever, ever joined me in the field, of how Happy!!! I was to be with him there, then.

Eureka! We found the most luxurious clumps of Butterflyweed that I’ve ever seen, anywhere, let along Doak field in southwestern Pennsylvania. We were there early, very early, and now the wait. We waited for that time, usually around 9 A.M. when the butterflies sense these spectacular blooms, sense that those flowers are set to pump nectar, sugary nectar to support their athletic flight.

We we wait, and wait, and now it was 10 A.M. and few butterflies appeared. 10:45 A.M. arrived, and this is usually the time when no butterflies return to these deep orange flowers. The numbers for those hours? Disappointing.

We discussed how such things cannot be predicted, as this was surely a good example of lush bloom with good history, yielding scant swallowtails, monarchs, fritillaries or skippers. I must share that the usual suspects, Silver -spotted skippers, could be counted on one hand.

My take away? What I know is I must wait to next year, 2019, and hope to again see Coral hairstreaks here, on Butterflyweed.

My grandson, all of 7 years old, understood that day, that flora and fauna cannot be comfortably predicted, that a lesson in and of itself.

Jeff

JumpBack to 2004 . . . Memories Galore

Pittsburgh South Vo-Tech public school field trip participants - May 2004, photographed by Jeff Zablow in Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

I pitched so many of my images. Those South Vo-Tech H.S. field trips, now without provenance. We used to go on 3 each May, all wetland study trips. I always took no more than 15 kids. I never had a parent join us. This one is saved for the archives. There is a teacher along with us, because that teacher wanted to participate, and the administration caved and we had our rare 2nd adult.

Raccoon Creek State Park is 45 minutes west of South H.S., almost to the West Virginia state line. The Wetland Trail leads through diverse habitat. This year we ALL had belly laughs, for the rains days before left the trail supper muddy, and they 16 to 18 year olds never sunk so deep in mud, ever. Uncle Sam taught me to never quit, and we lived that lesson, laughing and slipping, but we persevered.

Did not ever take a class on a trip. Told all of incoming students in September that all would have a chance to go, and those who showed maturity, did their work, and cooperated . . . they would go. Backbreakers in September, after watching out ‘Slide Labs [featuring images of their friends on earlier trips], would make a 360 degree turnaround by January. Truth be told, I brought kids to meet the outdoors who were Legends on their mean Pittsburgh streets . . . and were wonderful with us in the forests, meadows, wetlands and diverse terrain.

They’re out there now, these guys would be in their late 20’s. They know that the red-wing blackbird is Agelaius phoenixes; Common cattail is Typha latifolia; Monarchs are Danaus plexippus; and Bald eagles are Haliaeetus leucocephalus. Back in their city neighborhoods, the house sparrow is Passer domesticus; the Cardinal is Cardinalis cardinalis  and the starling is Vulgaris vulgaris.

I meet them unexpectedly here and there in the city. They see me, Beam! and say “Mr. Zablow!” Next they straighten up and say ” Typha, the cattail . . . I still remember!” It sets my heart Kaboom! kaboom!

Introduce our kids to flora and fauna, let them see how much you Love and Respect it, and you will have created new legions of stewards of the environment.

Jeff

Arroyo Spells Caution

White Tank Mountains Regional Park, AZ photographed by Jeff Zablow

Arizona Arroyos fascinate me. As a native New Yorker now living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I struggle to understand how this habitat is so alive with flora and fauna. We are in the White Tank Mountains Regional Park, 25 minutes drive from Sun City West and at a higher spot we can easily see Phoenix. It’s minutes before 9 A.M. and although it is March, it is very hot in this Arroyo.

I’ve visited this area several times in recent years. I found that despite the abundance of wildflowers beyond the Arroyos, the Arroyo habitat itself was the best place to find butterflies. What did I do? I found wildflowers in bloom and waited to see if they drew butterflies. If they did, I parked myself there and awaited the arrival of butterflies hungry for nectar.

The next day I had no trouble working my way along the Arroyo, though the boulder strewn bed was a challenge to walk through. I walked a pretty good distance along the Arroyo shown in this photograph. I eventually turned around and followed the Arroyo back to where I entered it. It was a hot day, but I had plenty of water and made it back to my car without any trouble.

That next day, I returned to this same Arroyo and again walked my way along it. I decided that since the day before went so well, I would go somewhat further along the Arroyo. I walked and it was indeed work to make my way some 15 minutes more. There were occasional butterflies around 10:30 A.M. Then I started to feel good one moment and then the next I felt weak, exhausted, heady and my forehead was strangely dry. I knew that something bad had snuck up on  me. I felt weak, dry and 50% disoriented. I drank some water, but that made little difference.

What I did was foolish, very foolish. My wife had passed away just months before, in  January 2008. She would have been very upset with my response to this dilemma. I slowly headed back to where I had come from, and after 40 feet, I sat down under a bush. I drank and waited. I felt like limp crap (to be bluntly honest). I moved (walked wouldn’t be realistic) ahead again, about 40 feet to a little tree and sat under it. I drank some more water. I continued this survival strategy for what seemed like a very, very long time. At times under those bushes I wasn’t sure that I was going to survive. I mustered all that life had dished out to me, all that I  learned in a particularly brutal basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey; the pride that I  experienced when I completed OCS; all the street confrontations that I had as a kid; and my inner vision of myself as a warrior (True). I survived by moving from bush to tree to bush. Foolish because? I had a cell. I didn’t want to use it because I  didn’t want to look like a priss. I acted just like the TV character Raymond. I didn’t dial 911.

Just this week a man and woman were found along a particularly treacherous trail, having succumbed to 115 degree F heat.

I scored some good images that morning, and as I  sat in my car, limp and Thanking G-d, I considered what Arroyo means. Arroyo also spells Caution.

Jeff