This past week the heat has rested upon the Park like something swampy fat, indolent and gorged. The parking lots stay empty. No one goes there in the late afternoon, but that’s when we pull in to walk in the stream. Wolfie runs ahead of me to the first path; when I turn down through the trees, he is already standing belly deep and looking up for my arrival. The stream runs clear over gravel banks and rocks; freshwater crawfish scrape along the bottom. We often scare up a Great Blue Heron, frog hunting in still water along the right bank. We have watched Kingfishers clacking away flying close to the surface.
Wolfie stays next to me mid-stream, occasionally plunging his head into bubbles and floating leaves. He wants to play catch with my baseball cap when I dip it under and bring it up brimming to slap onto my head. We walk the shaded parts to each of four clay-beaten tracks and drop in at each place. This way, happy and wet, we wander the circuit of the steaming meadow.
The stream curves sharply in its northeastern corner against sandstone cliffs, and the gravel shelves there collect Yellow Swallowtail butterflies; they ‘puddle’ together on these shelves, collecting amino acids and sodium which help in their reproduction.
When Wolfie dipped over the bank toward the water, instantly over a hundred, probably two hundred Swallowtails flew up in columns that spread into clouds and then into spots of moving yellow. Over the water, above me, encircling me, in trees, stretched downstream, silently circling, spiraling … everywhere. I could not turn my head fast enough to follow them. It felt as if we had stumbled into a benign fairy tale, a charm unwound on a hot Pennsylvania afternoon.
One did not fly. Furiously beating its wings, it remained anchored to the ground. I thought another insect had snagged it and that I was watching a death struggle, but when I bent to look, I could see that it had been caught in a stretch of rotten fishing line. I closed my fingers over its wings, slowly, slowly, and when they were secured below its body, their powder staining my fingertips, I unraveled the line, unlooped it from a corner of one wing and then it launched itself into the dispersing flight.*
Later, standing mid-stream in the quiet, a breeze kicked up and moved over the waters, and they began to return on that breeze, their soft yellows falling out of the bright green canopy far above us.
*A group of butterflies may be called a rabble or a flight, kaleidoscope, swarm, or lek.