Summertime lingers for the butterflies

Summer, having peaked and begun to wane, offers us a rich consolation this year as an abundance of butterflies, which have never been more numerous on our farm than now. It is the first August in more than a decade that Charlie hasn't mown the purple top (often called ironwood) off the pastures to make more grazing space for our cows. We're allowing the farm, once kept golf-course trim by 30 large ruminants, to wild up as our eight retired dairy animals eat their fill and then some. They bed down in vegetation so lush the impressions they leave in the morning bring to mind landlocked swans' nests.

I walk each evening amid the shoulder-high weeds along bush-hogged paths, occasionally flushing a family of wild turkeys and startling fawns whose spots are fading. They leap away with the gangly grace of yearlings, triggering a flurrying answer of swallowtails, fritillaries, mourning cloaks, monarchs, and viceroys.

A month ago, Charlie remarked that it didn't look like the purple top would make much of a showing this year. In response to which, the weed flowered prodigiously, spreading a nectar buffet no self-respecting insect could resist.

If he hadn't already decided not to mow the weeds back this year, Charlie couldn't have borne to in any case, once he walked amid all that mute, graceful energy on the wing. It would have been like cutting through a dream.

And so the purple top goes on blooming and spreading, wild birds and young deer spring to life at our footfall, and the butterflies scatter and settle again to go about their end-of-season business.

In the low light at the end of the gradually shortening days, we find ourselves captivated by their extravagance. It is as if something had arrested time, just for a moment, and tethered it with a delicate insistence to summer.

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