Butter Flies

Our dogs, like us, enjoy the coming of spring, marked by the arrival of the swallowtails. Gandy thinks the first part of the butterfly name implies an imperative verb. Tsuga believed them to have magical properties.  

Tsuga–who would have celebrated his 10th birthday in about a month–was not interested at all in the Tiger Swallowtails on a cloudy day. One could fly just in front of his face, and he yawned. But on a sunny day, the chase was on. Except it was not the butterfly but its shadow he followed. And where he lost the trail, he dug, just knowing that the shadow had burrowed underground. Our lawn was channeled this time of year with dug-out butterfly bunkers. 

Gandy, as I said, thinks swallow means grab a mouthful of them. And with the puddling behavior that aggregates a dozen or more butterflies at a single seemingly-unremarkable spot on the driveway or road bed, coming away with a mouthful is not that hard for her. (Still, I have to think she is disappointed that they don’t taste like their namesake.)

And so she’d leapt at a gaggle of swallowtails heading away from us, and then proceeded down into the creek bed. As she started up the other side, she lifted her head, and opened her mouth. And one at a time, yellow swallowed-tails fluttered to freedom in a celebratory fashion, the dog oblivious. All in a country dog’s late spring day’s work.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Seeing butterflies coming out of Gandy’s mouth sounds like the most astonishing sight I can imagine!