Writing the Distance: Bob Armstrong

The Covid 19 pandemic is isolating Alaskan writers. We can no longer attend workshops
or public readings. The coffee bars where we met with other writers are closed. To bridge these physical gaps, 49 Writers is providing this on-line forum for Alaskans writing the distance. Today, naturalist, writer and photographer Bob Armstrong  provides a reflection and photograph.


“I saw a butterfly on the snow today and that was enough!”

Many years ago I read a book on poems about nature written by a woman in Kansas City. One of her poems really influenced the way I think about life and nature. The title was “Enough” and she wrote “I saw a black and brown caterpillar today and that was enough.”

Yesterday I was taking a walk on a snow covered trail in Juneau. I did not see any other humans or hear any human created noise. It was a very peaceful and relaxing experience. On the way back this butterfly landed on the snow almost at my feet. Her poem “Enough” immediately came to life and I had to share it with you all.

Of course that was not quite enough for me. I had to know what species it was and why it was out and about in mid-April in the Juneau area. After some literature searching I identified it as a Milbert’s Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti). The species milberti was named for Mr. Milbert, a friend of Godart who collected North American butterflies in 1826. The genus name Aglais is from the Greek aglaos (beautiful) or aglais (beauty). The common name “tortoiseshells” refers to the upperside of the wings of the butterflies resembling the mottled yellowish brown “tortoiseshell” of some sea turtles.

And more……………..they overwinter as adults and are commonly classified as Winter Butterflies that may emerge on warm winter days on the south coast of British Columbia and Alaska. How they overwinter in freezing temperatures is very interesting. I once helped write an article titled “To Freeze or Not to Freeze” How Cold-Blooded Animals Survive Southeast Winters. But that’s another story.

One of their major food sources, when no flowers are out, is tree sap. The Red-breasted Sapsucker woodpeckers are now digging holes in trees for the sap that oozes from the holes. And I sometimes see these butterflies feeding on the woodpeckers sap holes. I once read that these butterflies also feed on the sap that oozes from willow branches that the moose feed on. A natural connection between moose and butterflies—wow!

It is so much fun and interesting to see something in nature and then try understanding what is going on. Especially now.

Bob lives in Juneau where he photographs and writes about the natural history of Alaska.


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