Saturday, February 28, 2009

Full Cycle (should be dated 11 November 2008)

Judi got started in butterflies with Black Swallowtail eggs and tiny caterpillars on dill, fennel, and parsley plants that she brought home from local nurseries, especially Sun Harbor Nursery. She hatched out these eggs and raised the caterpillars to chrysalises, and released the butterflies as they emerged from their chrysalises. Along the way, of course, she added Monarches, Gold-rimmed Swallowtails, Queens, many varieties of Sulfurs, and others. But those Black Swallowtails were the first.

Then, I guess it was in late September, 2008, Judi was standing on the deck and a Black Swallowtail flew over and started circling around her. I was there, I saw it: The Swallowtail started around her knees and flew around her in a tight spiral, maybe a foot from her body, circling up. It rose above her head and then began spiraling back down. She stood completely motionless, arms and legs in, while the butterfly circled back to about knee level and then spiraled back up, and then reversed and spiraled back down again, circling her over and over.

We had never seen this kind of behavior before, and instantly I knew what it meant:

This was one of Judi's Black Swallowtails, that she had fed and raised and finally held in her hand and on her finger and then released. And it knew her.

Then the Swallowtail flew off, and of course we followed her, and she flew over to a fennel plant and, while we watched, began to lay eggs.

This butterfly that Judi had raised and released had returned and was laying eggs.

Well of course those eggs were taken into protective custody, and they hatched, and Judi raised those caterpillars to chrysalises. And then, and then, on November 11th, the first butterfly emerged from those chrysalises.

For Judi, this was her first "full cycle": A butterfly raised from an egg laid by a butterfly that in turn Judi had raised and released. It was a watershed. Judi wasn't just someone who raised someone else's caterpillars. Her butterflies are making their own butterflies. And Judi got a picture of that first full cycle Black Swallowtail, before she released it to take its place in the Circle of Life. Here it is (credit Judi for the picture):

First Full Cycle


Monday, February 23, 2009

Say what?

The online edition of the New York Times is running a story about the new, upscale hotels and resorts being built on the island of St. Lucia (an island where I would love to spend a week). If you read it, in the description of Cap Maison, a hotel near the northern tip of the island, you will encounter this:
The [hotel] restaurant, under the direction of a Welsh Rastafarian chef, offers a small but rich menu: small bites of grilled local rabbit or duck to start, a risotto flavored with star anise, the gem of the local spice cabinet, local seafood and a perfectly sugar-crusted praline souffle.
Welsh Rastafarian? Seriously?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The fragility of life, twelve butterflies, and the Queen of England

This is from Michael Malone's terrific book Dingley Falls (the William character is in his eighties):
"Last time I wanted to die I was nineteen. I'm way too old for it now. Now hand me that pea soup," called William with gusto as out came Orchid O'Neal with the cat-faced china tureen that no one had ever liked, but that had perversely refused to be dropped and broken, and that had outlasted three generations of Dingley owners. Fragile as china is, it is less fragile than life.

Life is, indeed, more fragile than china.

In November, 2007, Princess Sunni went through a series of seventeen radiation treatments for a debilitating brain tumor. Even though the treatments were a success, we knew they weren't a cure, and the return of the tumor hung over our thoughts. Judi would often hug her little beagle and say to her, "I don't know what I'm going to do when you're gone."

"Where am I going, Mommy?" the Princess would answer.

And Judi would answer, "England, Princess. You're going to England. You can meet the Queen."

After a hug, or even just a scratch-behind-the-ears, Sunni would always shake herself all over. Judi would accuse her of trying to shake off Mommy's love, but I told her that the Princess was just making sure all her furs were arranged the way they should be.

And the brain tumor did not return. The Princess beat the odds. She remained sharp and strong right up until Friday, January 16th.

Anyway, I thought I should provide a little more information about Princess Sunni's goodbye, for anyone who might care to know.

The Princess came home triumphantly from her surgery on Wednesday, the 14th. On Thursday she has a fantastic day: She scarfed hot dogs for breakfast, and played her "nose in the bamboo curtain" game to get lots of Arby's bites for lunch. It was a happy day for all of us.

Then, late Thursday night her breathing became a little heavier, and the color disappeared from her gums. We knew what this meant: That one of the tumors in her liver had ruptured, and there was nothing that could be done.

She spent the entire night in Judi's arms, under the blankets, warm and peaceful and loved, seeming content.

Just after 9:00 AM Friday morning she was placed up on her front legs and she gave one final shake of her head and ears and neck. It wasn't a strong shake, but it was enough to get her furs were arranged just the way they should be. It was her final act using on her own strength: Arrange her furs just so. She lay back in Judi's arms, and at around 9:20 AM she was gone.

Judi has butterflies emerging from chrysalises almost every day, usually many per day. That Friday, she had eleven Monarch butterflies, and they were released, one by one. "We need twelve," Judi said, "one to remember each year of Sunni's life." But only eleven Monarchs came out. Then, later in the day, we had a big surprise: A solitary Black Swallowtail emerged, after having been in chrysalis literally for months -- so long that we has given it up as not being viable. But a big, strong, incredibly beautiful Black Swallowtail came out and Judi released it and it flew away, number twelve for the day, one to remember each year of the Princess's life.

Godspeed, sweet Princess. Oh, and one more thing: When you get to England?

Say hello to the Queen for me.

The Princess Steps Out
The Princess Steps Out


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Valentine's Day Present

I know I owe you updates about the Butterfly Gardens dating back to last November, and I don't like to get things out of chronological order, but I can't wait to post about what happened last Saturday, Valentine's Day:

Judi's Zebra Longwings emerged from their chrysalises!

These are Judi's first Zebra Longwings (the Florida state butterfly), so this is pretty exciting. It started some weeks ago when Sandy at Sun Harbor Nursery gave Judi some Zebra eggs that had been laid on one of their passion vines. Six of the eggs hatched, and Judi raised the caterpillars. The Zebra caterpillar is something to look at -- all white and black except for unexpectedly orange feet:

Zebra Longwing Caterpillars

Five of the six caterpillars survived to form chrysalises. The Zebra chrysalis is something to see: It has two thin extensions that extend downward, and, just above those, two dots with a metallic gleam, like gold:

Zebra Longwing Chrysalis

When you turn the chrysalis upside down (as I will do for you electronically here, so you don't get a crink in your neck trying to look at your monitor upside down), they look like devils with horns and burning eyes:

Zebra Longwing Chrysalis Posing as the Devil

And, finally, on Valentine's Day, they began to emerge. We were actually lucky enough to catch one of the emergences. Some of these pictures aren't quite as sharp as they could be, but you might still enjoy seeing this amazing event (click on any picture in this post for a larger version). The butterfly emerges from the bottom of the chrysalis, head-first (i.e., upside down):

Emerging, 1 of 7

Emerging, 2 of 7

Emerging, 3 of 7

Emerging, 4 of 7

Emerging, 5 of 7

Emerging, 6 of 7

Emerging, 7 of 7



This is an incredible butterfly. It has the wingspan of a B-52 bomber. Here's one sitting on Judi's hand as we wait for it to take flight:

On Judis Hands

And here's a picture Judi took of one sitting in her viburnum tree:

The Zebra Longwing
Photo: Judi


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Recovery update

Just in case anyone is curious about my recovery from my knee replacement, two weeks ago I returned to work, four-hour days, and on Monday I start back to work full time.

But that's not the important news. The important news is that, today, for the first time, I went on a bike ride. Better yet, I rode the brand new beach cruiser bicycle that Judi gave me for a Christmas present! I love this bike.

The ride was exhilirating! It was only about six miles, but it was a start. Hopefully I won't regret it in the morning. :)


Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The company that I work for, like so many others, is laying off employees (this is actually our second round of layoffs in as many months, and for those of you who might care, don't worry, I think my job is safe). Anyway, the company is asking for volunteers to be laid off (the compensation isn't bad -- I would consider it myself except that I would lose my health care insurance). The notice asking for volunteers includes this line:

"Management retains sole discretion to determine any employee's essentiality."

Essentiality? Seriously?

Why essentiality? As long as we're making up words, why not essentialness. Or, even better, essentialability (it rolls off your tongue after you practice it a few times).

Or even better:

"Management retains sole discretion to determine how essential an employee is."

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I know my posts have been pretty sparse lately. I hope to change that, and in particular I have a lot of butterfly news to get caught up on. In the meantime, I wanted to mention a line I heard on NPR's Morning Edition this morning. The mayor of a suburban Miami town was talking about his town's effort to score funds from the upcoming economic stimulus package:

"We're barking up every tree in the forest."

I guess if you're going to bark up a wrong tree, why not bark up every wrong tree. As well as the right one, hopefully.

Somehow, it seems like a very beagle-ly strategy. :) I wish him and his town well.

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