Nature Notes: Against all odds

<I>PHOTO PROVIDED</I><BR>A swallowtail butterfly pauses to investigate a backyard lobelia. Some butterfly species struggle with issues such as dwindling habitat and suburban encroachment.

The temperature in the bright July sun in front of the shopping mall must have been an easy 100 degrees, and the black pavement was soaking up even more heat and radiating it something ferocious.

I was sitting in the car just watching shoppers as they came and went and all of the sudden directly in front of me, a spectacular yellow swallowtail butterfly appeared. Flying in the manner of all butterflies when out in the open in broad daylight and easy prey for birds, this swallowtail bobbed and weaved and climbed and dove as it made its way across the burning asphalt parking lot.

The parking lot is where there used to be a pristine wetland and would have been, at one time not so long ago, a home to hundreds if not thousands of butterflies.

Yet here was a survivor of this catastrophe to their former home, a home that was healthy and stable and unchanged for thousands of centuries. But nevertheless, there it was, strong and resilient, looking for trees here no more, searching for just the right thistle plant to feed on and lay its eggs upon, but those were sprayed and pulled and they, too, are gone.

The force of this one butterfly was astounding. Against all odds and braving broad daylight and open space, this huge swallowtail was searching valiantly for its genetic source, the place where all of its ancestors had lived and died and called home.

I watched as this miracle appearing in front of me slowly made its way across first one stretch of pavement and then another, crossing a busy highway and finally disappearing into a blackberry thicket on the far side of the highway.

Watching the swallowtail narrowly miss being hit by car after car, after it safely eluded the steel gauntlet, I let out a long sigh. I found myself wishing the trees we took from these beautiful butterflies could be replaced and the fields of thistle plants could be seen, as they are in other places in the world, as homes to be protected for these most spectacular and vanishing creatures. It's not too late. We can still learn how to save these magnificent creatures, if only we so choose.

As fleeting as cloud shadows, their time is short now. If you are fortunate enough to see these beauties in the wild, savor that delicious moment and please don't forget to vote. Death or light, it's up you!

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• Craig Sparks is director of NAWA, a filmmaker, freelance writer and wildlife rehabilitator.

• Found injured wildlife? Questions? Call the Wildlife Center at 503-338-3954 or send an e-mail to:

• High quality photo reprints from Nature Notes can be found online at:

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