To celebrate Earth Day my spouse, Michael, and I travel to Sand Ridge State Forest. The day is high overcast and the temperature will reach 73 degrees, a perfect butterfly day. As we head up the road to the park entrance, we reminisce—all the roads used to be sand, it was not unusual to get stuck, and Dr. Jim Sternberg had introduced us both to the area through our entomology classes. The roadside is no longer lined with blooming forbs—western cheat grass and garlic mustard are dominant now—but where a mower cannot reach, a few strongholds remain, rife with cleft phlox and cresses.
Our first stop is a sand pond. As the season progresses the shore will be lined with footprints, signatures of visitors before us. Today, we see only fuzzy bee flies, hovering low on the sand, a puddle club of cabbage white butterflies, three early harvester butterflies, and big sand tiger beetles, always a step ahead.
We cruise the roads looking for raccoon scat (a perfect food/nectar source for butterflies) and for our real target, the Olympia marble. A stop at the Archery Range yields a green-striped grasshopper, mimicking a spent shell.
We usually find a sand-loving bull snake, and today is no exception as I suddenly yell “Stop, snake!” We jump out of the car to investigate a bull snake as it hisses, rattles its tail, and snaps at Michael— four feet of pissed off muscle.
Our road cruise continues until almost out of the park we spy the low fluttery flight of the Olympia marbles, spring snowflakes of Carrara marble. For the next hour we are content to spend time with these small butterflies, following them from plant to plant, mentally comparing them to the over-abundant cabbage whites.
Michael again reminisces on when he first encountered these butterflies with Dr. Sternberg and Dr. Elis McCloud. McCloud had never seen them so he collected a few (this was the 1970s when collecting was the thing to do). He pinned and spread them oh so carefully and stored them in his car to keep them safe. Unbeknownst to him, his car had a mouse problem and his specimens were soon reduced to nothing but wings. As we leave the park we find and capture our final treasure, a mating pair on their food plant, something Dr. Sternberg in his 90 years of butterflying had never seen.