Idealizing a distant wilderness too often means not idealizing the environment in which we live, the landscape that for better or for worse we call our home. —William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness”
I came downstairs this morning to find the kids already up and getting ready to settle in for a round of cartoon watching, but I managed to lure them away from the screen and out into the yard by offering to let them use my good camera on a bug hunt, taking an idea I first saw on Rick Van Noy’s Dirt World blog. “Find me a Praying Mantis,” I said, and they were off (after a brief care-and-feeding-of-camera lesson). I had never let them use my Olympus unsupervised before, and that opportunity proved more seductive than Phineas and Ferb. (Truth be told, they weren’t entirely unsupervised this morning, either; I just let them feel that way.)
In the end, they didn’t find a Praying Mantis (neither did Van Noy’s daughter), but they came back with eighty-nine snapshots after thirty minutes or so, a few of which turned out to be keepers. Over the years, I’ve put in a lot of plants to attract butterflies, and this made the hunting easy on a warm summer’s morning.
Gulf Fritillary—worth clicking on to get the full-sized view
But the fun didn’t end there. When we came inside and loaded the pictures on the computer, it was time to turn to my butterfly field guide and figure out just what they had come up with. We won’t stake our reputation on all of our identifications, but we’re pretty sure we’ve come close—the boys can at least tell a Sulphur from a Fritillary from a Skipper. And viewing the good shots at full size was a revelation: “Whoa, look at its eyes!” shouted Andrew when we magnified a Gulf Fritillary, the camera recording detail that we certainly would have missed otherwise.
Gulf Fritillary—also particularly impressive at full size
Hummingbird Moth (looks enough like a bumblebee to give Andrew a fright when it buzzed him)
Bumblebee “hugging” the business end of a flower
After our summer of wandering the continent, I was glad to see them so engaged with the natural world right at our doorstep. I’ll be curious to see how this activity lingers with them—when they finally do find a Praying Mantis, I bet they come running for my camera.