Butterfly hunt yields only one Monarch

Published 9:34 am Thursday, October 5, 2017

ON THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY — It was a fool’s errand, and I was the big fool driving the car.

It had seemed like a good idea. I had Googled, “Monarch butterfly migration on the Blue Ridge Parkway.”

Several posts recommended certain mile markers and stops along the parkway. The migration takes place in September and October, and the butterflies are most active after a cold snap.

We didn’t wait for the cold snap.

Twenty years ago I saw the monarchs crossing the parkway. I stopped and gawked at the trail of butterflies fluttering nearly single-file across the highway in the fog, at a rate of maybe 100 per minute. It was amazing.

I wanted to show Elizabeth.

It was nearly 80 degree and sunny. We arrived at the recommended spots on the parkway and found some painted ladies flitting about the flowers. They also migrate.

With some effort, we spotted one monarch that seemed in no hurry to abandon North Carolina for Central America.

We drove 300 miles for one butterfly.

I saw a monarch the next day … at home.

• • • • •

The old codger’s daughter bragged to everyone on the trail that her skinny, stooped daddy was 78.

He was resting at the side of the trail when I caught up to them.

He said he was from Texas but grew up near Bristol, Tenn. The family had brought him to the Great Smokies to climb the Alum Cave Trail, 5.5 miles to the top of Mt. LeConte, elevation 6,500 feet.

I complimented his stamina and left him and his family by the side of the trail as I continued upward, not sure that the geezer would make it to the top without the help of heavenly angels taking him to paradise.

Thirty minutes later he had caught a second wind and passed me.

I had looked back to see his group gaining on me and had tried to hurry along, but he was too quick.

He reached the top before me.

I returned to the mountains early Sunday morning to my favorite spot in the Great Smokies to climb Mt. LeConte, one of the Edenic spots of North Carolina.

At my last birthday I had vowed to climb the mountain once a year. On Sunday, I decided to get tuned up for birthday 65, climbing alone since my sons have flown the nest. Years ago I had to urge them along the same trail. More recently, they have paced me.

On Sunday, bad thoughts crept into my head: “Turn around. You can’t make it. Go back. My legs hurt.”

A mid-aged couple from Nashville started when I did and breezed up the mountain, bought cookies from the Mt. LeConte Lodge and quickly went back down. A skinny young woman carrying a big pack similarly swept past me and was descending before I got to the top. Another husband-wife team may not have made it until dark. A group of four preachers were stopped in the middle of the path halfway up discussing life. They never made it. A young ROTC unit practically ran up the trail, one of them carrying a flag.

I made it to the top in four hours, not a remarkable time.

I sat in a rocking chair beside the ROTC boys at the lodge for maybe 15 minutes. I ate a peanut butter and raspberry jelly sandwich and downed swigs of cold spring water from atop the mountain.

Then it was time to go back down the trail.

Why do people climb mountains? I decided it was the same reason that chickens cross the road. Because it’s there. To say we’ve done it. To get to the top … and come back down. It’s illogical.

The leaves were beginning to turn. I saw lots of red squirrels poking about. The air was crisp and smelled of rotting wood and moss. It was beautiful, but I hurt a lot.

It took three more hours to get back down to the parking lot. The legs and feet were weary by then … and still are.

– Dwight Sparks