Flights of Summer

Ever since I was a boy summer has seemed synonymous with flight. Whether a figurative lift coinciding with the end of school when my brother and I would take to our bikes or the fields with equal delight and spend endless, consuming hours exploring whatever was there to be discovered, or an actual journey through air, travelling from our Ontario home on holiday to the northeast of England where we’d lived before my parents emigrated across an ocean. In every sense summer was an airy embrace.

Years later and the hot, burnished months still summon a desire for flight, but never my own. Instead it’s a time for staying still, to let the season spill over and layer the long days with its sheen. To let light cast its spell. In the breathless hours that enfold the Mediterranean siesta I’m drawn to the movements of the few creatures willing to risk the kindling sun.

The flights of butterflies peak with the drowsy heat. They waver over the dry garden grasses, finding flowers or just passing through. Tiny blues like chips of lake ice, the myriad rusty hues of fritillaries, the metallic glaze of the green hairstreak. It’s like sitting in the garden for a matinée, watching a reel of old tinted celluloid unroll.

Seeing a meadow brown riding back and forth about the potatoes, bouncing sideways and at cross-purposes before curling back the way it came, it’s hard to imagine that butterflies were ever intended for flight. Yet some, like the monarch of North America and the painted lady of Europe and Africa are compelled to journey vast distances, migrating like birds during their fragile and short-lived existence. 

To see one in the garden is to sense an urgency, a powerful compulsion that sends brittle creatures across the seas, spanning lands as varied as the many species adorned with wings. Unknowingly, butterflies now act as crucial environmental indicators as well. Due to their short life cycles, food-plant specialisation and intimate reliance of weather and climate, butterflies are sensitive to minor environmental changes. They can be read like a catalogue of possible loss; a place without their presence is rarely a positive thing.

So many of us seek the light: flocking to seasides in summer; lifting as seedlings from the forest floor; basking like seals on stones. But it is equally flight that distills a seasonal essence, a desire to move on, leave things behind, take to the skies. As the naturalist Miriam Rothschild once said: “Butterflies add another dimension to the garden for they are like dream flowers – childhood dreams – which have broken loose from their stalks and escaped into the sunshine.” In the wake of each butterfly’s wings trails a memory, a weightless passage from one moment to the next, a kindred dance in the sun.

Notes from Near and Far will be back sometime around the middle of August. Until then, many thanks for reading and I wish you all an enriching season – whether it’s summer in the north or winter in the south. Happy wanderings…

46 thoughts on “Flights of Summer

    1. And to you too, Pete. Any summer journeys planned?

      They might be Adonis blues, but I wouldn’t want to hazard a quess. Although I’ve been working hard at my butterfly identification skills these last couple of years and feel fairly confident of the species in the other photos, the blues present a considerable challenge in the field. There are simply so many varieties in the region, set apart by often subtle differences. But my guide book tells me that we’re within the range of the Adonis so you could well be right. I’ll see what I can find out.

      Until then, hope you’re both well and thanks for the kind words….

  1. beautiful and evocative as always..I love the way butterflys come and drink from the soil when I am watering the garden. Some really stunning images here; you can give me some lessons next time we meet.. I have one request though, would it be possible to caption the images in future?
    Much love
    Sid

    1. Lovely to hear from you, Sid, and delighted that you liked the post. As to your question of captions. All the images are captioned with a name or description that you can see when you move your mouse over the image. I had tried some time ago to caption the photos more explicitly but wasn’t very pleased with the aesthetic which seemed to lessen the image. Perhaps the style has since been improved and I’ll try it again. Thanks for mentioning it, though, as I now realise that other readers might not know that the images are labelled as well, in this case with the names of the butterflies.

      The behaviour you describe is fascinating to watch. Today a number of blues gathered around the wet earth where I’d just watered the aubergines. Generally those are male butterflies that you’re seeing – they are essentially sipping mud and the constituent minerals, such as sodium and amino acids which are more readily available when the soil is damp, that are then transferred to the female during mating. The addition of these dissolved minerals are of extreme importance to the survival and growth of the eggs.

      Many thanks for reading, Sid, and thanks for pointing out the issue with captions. I’ll see if anyone else has thoughts on it as well. Looking forward to learning more about these butterflies together when you’re next here!

      Much love,
      Julian

    1. Thanks very much! Deeply appreciated and delighted that you enjoyed the post. It can be difficult, but also a great joy to photograph these extraordinary creatures, that more than makes up for it.

      Best wishes,
      Julian

  2. Lovely post, just discovered your blog. Great pictures, and words are lovely too. Butterflies are stunning aren’t they? Just lasting a few days, but perfect little creations.

    1. Thanks ever so much, Lynne, and I’m so pleased that you found the blog. I’ve just realised why your name sounds familiar, as I think I’ve read some of your comments and of your joint adventures over at Sybil and Amy-Lynn’s blogs! Apologies if I’m mistaken about that.

      Butterflies continually entrance me – partially from their beauty but also the nature of their becoming, transforming from one creature to another. It’s a mysterious and absorbing thing…

      Many thanks for the kind words and best wishes,
      Julian

  3. You must be a man of great patience to have captured all these beautiful images. And with your creative language and gentle instruction, you have again enlightened and enlivened our experience. I cannot thank you enough for sharing your inspiring prose and lovely images.

    1. Sadly, the “great patience” that I exhibit while photographing butterflies can become easily undone when confronted by other things in life! Maybe I should spread it out a bit more!!

      Thanks so much, Cindy. Your comments touch me very deeply and it’s a great pleasure knowing that the words and images speak to you in this way. I’m honoured to have you reading so thoughtfully.

      Hope all is well with you and best wishes from here,
      Julian

  4. Fitting that you would use the theme of flight, and the pictures and stories of butterflies, as a segue into your summer break and whatever physical or spiritual journeys that this holds in store for you. Your words transported me back to my youth and the utter joy that I would experience cycling down a hill with the wind racing through my hair, and the feeling that this must be just a taste of what it would be like to actually fly. Thanks for giving wing to this pleasurable childhood memory.

    1. I share a very similar memory of racing bikes downhill in childhood, and all the freedom that movement encapsulated, Paul. It was a wondrous time, one that I believe influences greatly the lives we now live.
      Thanks for this wonderful comment. I love that you raise the idea of a spiritual journey as well. Although the summer holds no particular travel plans (we prefer to go away in the autumn when the crowds have thinned and the days and nights have cooled into clear light) I always consider this season a time for journeying all the same. I wished to use the next month for exploring a number of thoughts and ideas (to fill the well, as Julia continually reminds me) and to wander my own local place, to deepen my engagement with its creatures, its light, its moods. Spiritual is how I’ve come to see these particular travels into the interior.

      Hope you’re well, and that your own journeys inspire,
      Julian

  5. Those photos are so lovely! Butterflies are closely connected with our childhood – where we were free and gay like those winged beauties. That quote about butterflies is apt and meaningful.
    Enjoy your wanderings, Julian!

    1. Thanks kindly, Bindu! I’m really delighted that you enjoyed the post. Indeed butterflies seem able to transport us into the past – a place or time that can easily feel out of reach.
      And I hope you enjoy your own upcoming wanderings, Bindu. You must be very excited!

      Best wishes,
      Julian

  6. These butterflies are awesome. The variety of colours and patterns in nature is amazing.
    Ilustrations of various butterflies used to be my best site in encylkopedia when I was a child. It is great to see them in your photos along with the flowers. Are this all phots taken in Greece?
    I will come back here after my holidays (mabe I’ll see you somwhere in my part of the world : ) , I’m goin to southern-east part of it) to read your post more patiently,
    and here I have a Peacock butterfly to your collection : http://powidok.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/masloloty/

    I wish you great trip!
    Barbara

    1. Thanks, Barbara! The peacock is one of my favourite butterflies and those are a wonderful couple of images. And yes, all of these photos are taken in Greece, around Prespa where we live. There is an extremely rich range of varieties and subspecies found here that correspond to the great diversity of flora. It is amazing how many butterflies we can sometimes see in the right places!

      Hope you have a terrific and creative journey and looking foward to seeing where they’ll lead your posts!

      Best wishes and have a joyous summer,
      Julian

  7. “…summer was an airy embrace.” Once again I am amazed at the way you put together words in a way that when they come together, they stir up colorful images inside the reader’s mind. Wonderfully written, as all your works are. And the pictures of all those butterflies… I can never hope to have your patience! Well done Julian!

    1. Great to hear from you, Rex, and many thanks for the very fine words! It’s a pleasure knowing you enjoyed the post so much and I recall us talking about photographing butterflies once before. Any luck with your own images of these wonderful winged creatures? I hope so; likewise I hope all is well with you. Thanks again and best wishes,

      Julian

      1. Haha yes you let them come to you! Still needs patience to do that! No such luck with butterfly pictures because I more or less have decided they do not like me! LOL! Take care!

  8. Beautiful post. I love what butterflies also represent…transformation and realizing one’s potential.
    We have amazing and huge luna moths here in the south USA. Though not butterflies, they certainly fit the “beautiful flying” category!

    1. I couldn’t agree more; their transformation speaks to us on so many different levels and can open us to other possibilties. Thanks for adding your thought and for the kind compliment! I’ve photos of luna moths and they look like astonishing creatures! Would love the opportunity to see one some time.
      Thanks for reading and best wishes,
      Julian

  9. A beautiful post, Julian, both in words and in images. I agree, that it’s hard to believe that butterflies can fly at all. They always seem so fragile, like if you look at them the wrong way they might shatter, like light scattering through a prism.

    Still, they are remarkably resilient. I appreciate your mention of their use as indicator species. I think more and more, we are learning that it’s the little things (insects, mosses, lichens, etc…) that hold the most reliable clues to what’s actually going on in our environment.

    Enjoy your summer. I’m trying to stay cool during the first hot July we’ve had in a few years.

    1. Thanks, Heather! Always a delight to hear your thoughts and ideas on a variety of species and of our relationship to them. And so very apt to raise the issue of how increasingly it seems that some of the smaller things reveal so much about our place in the world, and ultimately the consequences of our actions. The things that lichens, mosses and insects can tell us…
      I love the image of light scattering through a prism. How it focuses and then spreads out. Beautiful.

      Hope all is well during the heat wave! And many thanks, as always, for taking the time to read and comment. Much appreciated…

      Best wishes,
      Julian

  10. Lovely! I’m volunteering this summer at a children’s garden, and just yesterday we learned about butterflies and their importance in habitats. Outside of the monarch, my identification skills with them are practically nil; for me, they flit away too quickly! I’m always impressed by the patience and knowledge of people like yourself. Have a fabulous holiday, Julian!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Emily! I love the sound of volunteering at a children’s garden, a wonderful and inspiring idea. I imagine a great range of rich experiences will follow you this summer…
      Although I’ve spent quite a few years practicing my bird identification skills, my knowledge of butterflies was essentially none. But a few summers ago I broke my foot and was on crutches for the best part of two months (which was extremely frustrating considering how much I love to wander). So I decided to spend that time concentrating on my writing, and the garden seemed a perfect place to do it. It didn’t take long to realise how many diverse creatures were my neighbours during the day, and so I began (from my seated position) to learn about the world of butterflies with the help of a field guide. I finished a story or two that summer, but I mostly recall the affinity I began to feel for my shared community. Now I’m not suggesting you should break a leg, but should something similar ever happen I highly recommend that you have a good garden to recuperate in!!

      Hope you have a great summer and thanks for reading,
      Julian

  11. These are such beautiful photos. Your style is distinct in that not only do you focus sharply on your subjects, you render the perfect background that contrasts yet doesn’t override your subject.
    We have had a severe drought in Texas and I have wondered how that affects the milkweed that our monarchs passing through…from up north as far as Canada to Mexico…need to sustain themselves.
    Thank you for this post. Very nicely done.

    1. Thanks ever so much, Georgette! Your kind words and thoughts are deeply appreciated and I’m delighted that you’ve enjoyed the photos so much.

      I’ve been reading about the southern drought and sadly I’m sure it will affect the milkweed as it races through its cycle in order to produce seed. In all likelihood the plants will be far weaker and smaller than usual. But nature does have a remarkable resiliance as well; whether it’s enough to temper the long-term effects of climate change is the big question. Please let me know if you find out anything about the monarchs as the season progesses – I’d be very grateful.

      Many thanks again and hope all is well with you!

      Best wishes,
      Julian

      1. Ran into this discussion on LinkedIn regarding the effects of a drought resistant corn and the monarch butterfly with a reference to milkweed. Although the discussion is two months old, we’re still in a drought.

        1. Did you mean to post a link to the discussion, Georgette? If so, please do as I’d be very interested in following it up. Many thanks for taking the time to update me and hope things improve where you are, though I fear that droughts will become a more regular feature of our world in the years to come.

          1. Thanks, Georgette! It is an interesting discussion, and I learned a great deal about some of the finer points of GM technology. I found this website which you might be interested in as well http://www.monarchwatch.org/ There’s some terrific stuff about the monarch on a variety of levels, from their biology to rearing them and issues they face in a changing landscape and climate. Thanks ever so much for the discussion! Much appreciated and hope all is well with you,

            Julian

  12. Beautiful writing and photos, Julian! I love them all, but especially the one where there is a small brown butterfly on (almost) each daisy. I’m not seeing as many butterflies here as last summer. I’m not sure whether this is because I’m not home as much to observe them or if it’s some other reason. Great to see the variety you have there. I hope you are enjoying the summer!

    1. Thanks ever so much, Cait! Always a delight to hear from you – and an especially appreciated comment from such a wonderful photographer as yourself. The Duke of Burgandy butterflies are a great treat to see, so often unpertubed by my presence. But I’ve only found them in a single part of Prespa so far, which makes the trek especially lovely.

      We’re not at the house at the moment and only have a very poor wifi connection so will save your recent couple of posts until next week when we’re back. I’m very eager to see what you’ve been up to of late!

      Thanks again and hope you’re have a terrific summer!

      Best,
      Julian

  13. Hi Julian, Love the butterflies. There just don’t seem to be the same numbers I remember from my childhood. Do you have the same impression ?

    You are right about Lynne. What’s more, she’s coming in a week to visit Amy-Lynn and me here in Nova Scotia — all the way from England !

    Have a good “break” from Blogging.

    Sybil

    1. Thanks, Sybil! Can’t really say about butterfly numbers in relation to childhood because in this particular part of Greece there are simply so many. It really is extraordinary; I just stepped into the garden and there were dozens fluttering about. And as for the butterflies in the meadows, they are uncountable. Butterflies are affected by weather a great deal and also habitat loss – but just as crucially their numbers are affected by our managment of the land. Here the land is more or less left on its own; by that I don’t mean that there isn’t heavy use of pesticides or other harmful practices, but the land is essentially left to its own devices beyond the agricultural. What I do recall about growing up in Canada and living in the UK for many years is the almost compulsory need to ‘manage’ the land – to keep it cut back, free of weeds, neat and tidy. In a sense ordered and under control. Butterflies suffer greatly from this aesthetic regime I’m afraid as their food and host plants stand little chance of thriving, mostly because they’re weeds. I hope some of those practices are slowly changing, however; enlightened by the loss of species before it’s too late.

      Very pleased to meet Lynne via your blog, Sybil, and hope you all have a terrific time wandering and exploring together!

      Best wishes for the rest of summer and hope to catch up with your blog soon,
      Julian

  14. What beautiful photos, Julian! I especially love the clouded apollo – I don’t think I’ve ever seen one quite like it before… Your words describe the magic of butterflies so poetically.

    Butterflies always make me think of my grandmother, who spent her later years immersed in photographing all stages of the butterfly’s transformations. My grandfather was a land surveyor so she would go out into the woods of Cape Cod with him and somehow find the tiny eggs on the leaves and then very carefully transport them home. She kept them in her garden in glass aquariums with a screen on top so the birds couldn’t get them. And she knew what kinds of leaves to have available for the new caterpillar, and she would photograph the growing caterpillars shedding their skins and turning into chrysalises and finally emerging as butterflies.

    Every time we visited my grandparents, about once a month, she would take me on a little tour of her garden guests and update me on their progress. Many times when she knew “someone” was about to emerge she would excuse herself in the middle of dinner to grab her camera to capture the event on film. And then she would let the butterflies fly away!

    Grandmother used her photos to give lectures with a slideshow, and of course we got to see her practice runs. I can tell you with certainty that she would be dazzled to see your photos of these enchanting creatures!

    1. This really is a wonderful story, Barbara! Thanks ever so much for sharing it. I’m deeply drawn to these tales of people who are fascinated by particular creatures or places. There is something so life affirming about it for me; as though to have found love in one of the many ways of the world. To explore it in depth, to fill one’s days with the colours, the movement, the very essence of the thing you adore. Your grandmother sounds like she was a remarkable lady, even more so when considering that these studies were often the preserve of men. I wish very much that I could have watched one of those practice runs; I believe I would have learned a great deal from your grandmother about butterflies.

      The clouded apollo is one of the finest amongst a beautiful tribe. This is the only one I’ve ever managed to photograph; they move like ghosts, always just out of reach, and I’ve only found them on a single mountain here in Prespa where their food plant abounds. Ever spring I hike up there and this year after having spent the best part of a couple years failing to photograph them, I headed back down. At the last moment I changed my route to make my way back through some dense woods and right there, in front of me, was this particular clouded apollo that had probably only just emerged from its chrysalis, hence me being able to photograph it before its wings filled with blood and it took to the air like the rest of them!

      Thanks so much for this delightful comment and your kind words, Barbara, as always. Also, in light of this story about your grandmother, you might be interested in a book called An Obsession with Butterflies by Sharman Apt Russel, an interesting work exploring why these creatures continue to enthrall.

      Best wishes,
      Julian

      1. Thank you for the book recommendation, Julian! I’ve added it to my wish list and am looking forward to reading it. The title, “An Obsession with Butterflies,” made me think of how people may have considered my grandmother obsessed with butterflies, but as a child, her passionate interest was fascinating to me, and her enthusiasm was contagious. It will be a pleasure to visit the world of butterflies again through this book.

        I’m so happy your quest for the clouded apollo photo was well rewarded! The picture is all the more special now knowing what you went through to get it…

  15. Complete art runs through this essay – words, thoughts, pictures, subjects…all are imbued with such magnificent creativity.

    1. Thank you so much, Aubrey. I’m honoured coming from such a talented writer as yourself. Hope all is well with you and looking forward to stopping by soon.

      Best wishes,
      Julian

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