August 14, 2018
The Empty Butterfly Net

I wrote this for our local newsletter, The Cornwall Chronicle, but the subject is much more than local. If you've noticed the same phenomenon elsewhere, let me know in the comments. I'm researching an article on the subject.


I was eight when the World War II started. We lived on Indian Mountain Road in Lakeville, in a house overlooking the long valley that runs south from the old iron pits. To the west was the mountain itself with an abandoned log cabin on top. In between were meadows, pastures, forest, rock ledges, a stream, a swamp, even a pond. All this, all summer long, was my playground and my laboratory. I wanted to be a naturalist or maybe a zoo keeper when I grew up, whatever would keep me around animals of all descriptions, insects to elephants.

Back then the largest of these available to me were deer and once I was lucky enough to see some from an upstairs window. They were far away across the valley, a doe and two fawns. I called my sister to bring up the binoculars and we took turns watching, excited.

We moved away after the war and when I got back here it was 1972 and deer had become a traffic hazard. The whole composition of wildlife seemed to have changed, almost turned upside down.

In the 1940s the only geese to be seen here were high overhead in Vís on the way to their winter homes on Chesapeake Bay after summering, presumably, in Canada. Crows had always been abundant but now ravens had appeared too. So had bald eagles ands vultures and Great Blue Herons.

In 1982 a yearling bear showed up in Canaan. Some idiot shot it, but more came. So did coyotes, moose, fishers, bobcats, and, very probably, mountain lions. (In 2011 one made it from South Dakota to the Wilbur Cross Parkway, where a car killed it.)

This has all been to the good, in my view. The more the merrier.

What isnít good is the disappearance of the smaller creatures I remember from my boyhood. My considerable collection of mounted insects had been assembled by swinging a butterfly net at random through the cloud of insects that rose in front of me as I walked through unmowed fields. Try that today.

I seldom see even a grasshopper now. Or an anthill. Or a salamander. Or a toad. Or a daddy-long-legs. Summer nights were once noisy with the one-note symphony made by a thousand musicians. When was the last time you even saw one cricket?

What happened to those elaborate webs with an elegant black and yellow orb weaver spider at the center that used to decorate our fields? Huge Cecropia and Phoenix and Polyphemus and Luna moths used to be drawn to the light from our porches. No more. I have seen exactly one, a Luna, on our screens. Gardens were once alive with Monarch and Viceroy and Mourning Cloak butterflies, Wood Nymphs and Sulfurs and Fritillaries. Look them up on Google Images. Thatís where they are now.

I have no proof of what happened to these all these small things, just a suspicion. We happened, with our insecticides.

In the large scheme of things, humanity is best considered as a swarm of mindless cancer cells, multiplying out of control as they feed on their helpless host. Now that this earth is finally dying from our blind greed, we head blindly out to find a new victim. The medical term for this is metastasis, and the process explains the space race. At the rate weíre stuffing this planet into our mouths, even Mars is starting to look pretty good.


Posted by Jerome Doolittle at August 14, 2018 04:39 PM
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Am I the only one who has noticed that in recent years, space visitors in everything from movies, to TV series, to comic books, to real books have stopped saying, "Take us to your leader?" Do you think it might be because they've noticed who our leader is?

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank

Posted by: The New YorkCrank on August 14, 2018 8:29 PM

Remember also the bugs all over your windshield when driving in summer, not any more..

Posted by: on August 16, 2018 6:14 AM

Ticks have replaced butterflies. Saw one monarch yesterday in Killington, VT.

Posted by: on August 16, 2018 5:42 PM

No bugs to clean off the windshield.
Where are the fogs of bugs beneath the street lamps at night?
No bats to fly their nighttime circuit beneath the streetlights in the nocturnal feeding frenzy.
On the other hand the potato bugs are once again out in full force attracted to the light at our front door.
Yet, in the backyard, the three yellow transparent apple trees demonstrated a fruitful bloom courtesy of some unseen pollinator, perhaps the wind.
And that bounty attracted a 12 member turkey family, the resident tree climbing groundhog, 9 white-tail deer of various ages, 3 newly born rabbits, two gray squirrels, a chipmunk, 4 mourning doves and the red Cardinal overseer.
However, the balance is way off in light of the rare bee and butterfly.

Posted by: Rich on August 17, 2018 10:51 AM
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