Monthly Archives: March 2020

The Odessa Chronicles

I’ve been aware of The Odessa Chronicles for several years, thanks to the incessant, shameless plugging by its authors, Carolyn Shelton (joyroses13.wordpress.com) and Colin Chappell (meandray.com). They follow my blog, and I follow theirs. And if you’ve ever followed our comments, you may have noticed how much we sometimes antagonize each other. It’s all in good fun, but whew, it sure gets dicey at times.

My impression from their plugs was that The Odessa Chronicles was an apologue of talking animals that teaches moral lessons. So I was resistant to read it, as there’s a rebel in me that I enjoy harboring. Moral lessons are anathema to us rebels.

But in an idle moment of insanity, I took a look at their book on Amazon and decided to give it a go. But hell, I wasn’t about to fork over 25 bucks for the hardcover edition. And the paperback version isn’t much cheaper. So I ended up shelling out $4.99 for the Kindle version, which I read on my PC.

The first thing I noticed was that the writing was highly polished, flowed smoothly, and captivated my attention. This surprised me, as Carolyn’s blog posts, while fun to read, tend to contain technical errors, misspells, and head-scratchers. I wondered, did Carolyn write the rough, while Colin applied the sandpaper? I suspect that was at least partially the case.

I’m pretty sure Colin wrote the owl character’s lines, though, for they often involve the owl humorously correcting everyone’s use of the English language, with punctilious perspicacity. That’s pure Colin.

And the book indicates that Colin wrote at least a few other chapters, such as Odessa’s Journey. The fact that Colin had a strong influence in the making of this book, gave me hope that it would contain a definitive ending. Which it did. Sort of.

There are 48 chapters, counting the Introduction, and most chapters required only a few minutes to read, even for a slow reader like me. A few chapters were rather long, but they were broken down into parts. I appreciated this, as it was very considerate of my short attention span.

The first four chapters, after the Introduction, introduce the characters, who are Jaxon (a Jackalope), Odessa (an owl), Dewey (a cat), and Joshua Jeremiah Jonathan Jackson Pebblestone, aka the Man-Servant (a human being).

Jaxon, the Jackalope, has magical powers, and makes it possible for all four characters to communicate with each other. Dewey the cat takes advantage of this, and starts ordering Joshua around, finally giving him the nickname, Man-Servant.

Jaxon, Odessa, Dewey, and the Man-Servant decide to call themselves the Four Adventurers. They live on a farm, called Moonbeam Farm, where most of their adventures occur. Here they come to life, as the authors insightfully paint their characters with depth and feeling. By the middle of the book I sensed that I had come to know them well, and could regard them as my fictional friends.

Many of their adventures involve the animals pulling practical jokes on the man-servant, and the man-servant getting his revenge by japing them back.

The authors lace lessons on life into the adventures, often in humorous ways. I got quite a few chuckles, and this made the dreaded moral lessons easier to swallow.

While swallowing, here’s a few things I learned for my moral edification:

  • If you pull a practical joke on someone, expect one to be pulled on you (The Roof Top Incident).
  • Just reading about something, such as riding a bicycle, does not make you an expert on it (The Bicycle Adventure).
  • Don’t agree to do something without knowing what’s involved (Brave Dewey).
  • Be clear and logical in the way you communicate (the many dialogues with Odessa the Owl).
  • Don’t play in cardboard boxes sitting by the side of the road (The Cardboard Boxes!).
  • Don’t interfere with elections (The Greenwoods Election!).
  • Give gifts that the receiver will appreciate, and not necessarily the giver (Dewey’s Gift-Giving Day).
  • Don’t use magic to harm others (Dewey goes on a “Ride”).
  • Do as you say you are going to do (The Spirit From The North).
  • Don’t cheat at gambling (The Horse Race).
  • Follow your heart and comfort those who need comforting (Dewey and Jaxon Follow Their Hearts).
  • It doesn’t always have to be summer. You can have fun any time of the year. (The Trouble With Fall).
  • Not everyone likes, nor should eat, a Fluffernutter sandwich (The Picnic Lunch).
  • Unicorns are real, and can cure you of the blues (The Dewey Blues).
  • When you pull a joke on someone, think it through thoroughly, first, to make sure they don’t get hurt (A Snowy Day Adventure).
  • Sometimes you can have the best adventures in your own backyard, and they don’t even have to be planned (A Snowy Day Adventure).

A touching and suspenseful adventure (Odessa’s Journey) takes place about a third of the way into the book, where the owl, Odessa, leaves Moonbeam Farm to find some meaning to her life. This tale is broken down into 4 parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 3. Yes, that’s right, there are two Part 3’s. This is one of the few technical glitches I found in the book. I don’t like to be nitpicky, but since Odessa the Owl can be very particular and exacting, I think it’s only fitting for me, too, as the reader and reviewer.

There are bizarre moments, such as when the adventurers meet two seagulls named Bob One and Bob Two (The Odessa Odyssey). When addressed together, they ask to be referred to as Bob Three, since One plus Two equals Three. Although Bob Twelve could also work. Think about it.

This is a long book, by my aversion-to-reading standards, sort of reminding me of War and Peace. No, nothing is that long. The real problem is, I read slowly. But the chapters are self-contained adventures, so it was easy to digest it piecemeal, while gradually working my way through, over the course of a few weeks.

Colin is Canadian, and Carolyn is a lady of the States. Together, they have reached across an international border and conspired to write a classic. I loved the book. They tout it as a book for children of all ages, so perhaps I’m betraying my low maturity level. But I think it’s a good read.

The Odessa Chronicles is available for sale, on Amazon. You can click this link to learn more.

Improving Our Bird Brains, Part 2: Great White Egret

A Great White Egret standing in a sawgrass meadow, Everglades National Park.

We’re improving our bird brains, by studying up on some of the weird-ass birds my wife and I encountered in Florida.

In this here Part 2, we get learned about the Great White Egret.

This majestic, albescent bird is also known as the Great White Heron, or simply, the Great Egret. They’re found in the southern United States, from the eastern seaboard all the way west to California. They’ve been known to migrate as far north as Massachusetts, and many Great Egrets migrate to South America in the winter.

We saw a ton of them in Florida, but about a hundred years ago they were scarce. You see, egrets have long, white plumes, called aigrettes, and during the late 19th and early 20th centuries these aigrettes were in high demand. Ladies used them to adorn their ostentatious hats. Hell, you were nobody if you didn’t have a big white feather in your hat.

Marie Antoinette’s head looks very attractive with aigrettes in her cap, don’cha think?

So hunters in those days sought these plumes, to sell to the ladies. And they decimated about 95% of the egret population. Conservationists became alarmed and waged a campaign to save the Great Egret from extinction. They succeeded, and this beautiful white bird made a great comeback, and also became the symbol of the National Audubon Society.

Here’s some trivia that is probably not worth including in this post: Did you know that Frank Sinatra kept a few egrets in a home aviary? Well, he sang about this in one of his hits, with the lyrics, “Egrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention . . .”

They’re not called Greats for nothing. Great White Egrets exceed three feet in length, with a wingspan more than four feet.

In Florida, their nesting habitat is primarily on mangrove islands within Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, and Key West National Wildlife Refuge. Both of these refuges are in the Florida Keys.

This egret is fishing near mangroves, in Mrazek Pond, Everglades National Park.

Their nests tend to be high up, and like a chauvinist, the male selects where to build it. He courts the female by making calls (after first obtaining her cell number). He also flies around in a sexy circle. And to really get her going, he stretches his long neck way up in the air, pointing his slender beak skyward. I think men can relate to this particular technique.

It can be rough, growing up as an egret. You tend to have two or three siblings, and if food is scarce and you’re the weakest, one of your big brothers or sisters will kill you. But if you manage to survive that, then after about 6-7 weeks of drinking your parents’ vomit, you can fly away and start a life of your own.

Then you can do things your way, and perhaps have a few egrets of your own.

Some juvenile Great White Egrets have gray plumage that gradually transforms to white.

Heart Gone Wild

About a week ago I was schlepped to the hospital by ambulance at the lovely hour of four in the morning. Along the way, the ambulance driver managed to hit every bump in the road he could find. It was sort of like riding a wild beast. Or like riding my heart, which had also gone wild.

“AFib,” the EMT advised her partner, as she interpreted the EKG. Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) occurs when the top half of the heart marches to the beat of a different drummer from the bottom half of the heart. It results in a wild, anaerobic dance that will make your ventricles turn on their afterburners, while your lungs struggle to catch up.

I’ve been told that AFib is not usually a fatal condition, but that it can lead to a massive stroke if your blood is prone to coagulating. Which is no problem if you’re a hemophiliac descendant of ancient British royalty.

My wife handed my wallet, containing my driver’s license, insurance card, and everything else that gives me permission to live, to the EMT. While laying supine, I watched her place it on a shelf above my head and to my left. This was the last I saw of my wallet. Either the ambulance crew or the hospital staff lost it. Both point fingers at each other. I suspect that it bounced out a window after hitting one of those bumps, on the ride to the hospital.

“AFib,” they confirmed at the hospital. They poked my arm a dozen times until they found a vein. Then they fed some poison down a line, designed to reduce my heartbeat, which was racing along like a hummingbird in a meadow of May flowers.

I kept shaking violently, from hypoxia. They told me to stop shaking. I managed to force my arm to sit still, but then my feet erupted in quivers.

“You MUST stop shaking sir!” they yelled again, as if I was doing this on purpose. I stopped my feet, and then my head shook. I stopped my head, and then my belly contorted. I finally managed to stop everything. But then my lungs and breathing got all shaky. This was the funnest game of whack-a-mole I’ve ever played.

The poison went to work, and my beats per minute came down closer to 100, the safe upper limit. But not close enough. A doctor ordered an RN, over the phone, to administer a more powerful drug. The RN looked scared. He flat-out refused, claiming that perhaps something was misheard over the phone. But finally, after much coaching from his peers, he relented. I retracted slightly as he approached my bedside with his sinister vial of venom in his trembling hand.

But then he glanced up at my heartbeat monitor and exclaimed, “Whoa! It’s down to 85! How’d you do that sir?”

“Just laying here, I guess,” I shrugged. Or maybe when my heart saw how nervous he was, it decided to start behaving.

As my heart rate decreased, I felt increasingly better. I asked the RN if I’d be able to ballroom dance after I left the hospital. He said he didn’t see why not. I said that I did. Hell, I don’t know how to ballroom dance.

Suddenly I was feeling great and wanted the hell out of there. But no, I was attached by an IV line. I was a prisoner, at the mercy of the hospital. And the doctor on the phone wanted me admitted as an in-patient, for observation and further testing.

I looked around for my wife to rescue me. And that’s when I remembered. No visitors were allowed in the ER, due to coronavirus social distancing restrictions. She was at home watching TV and enjoying life without me, as I lay enfettered upon a gurney.

While warming my back there, I overheard lots of talk about the coronavirus. The RNs were cussing mad. They were bitching about our country’s lack of preparation for this pandemic. They expressed fear and outrage over a lack of testing, masks, and ventilators.

And they seemed to harbor resentment toward every patient they deigned to lay their eyes on. We would be the death of them, and their clinched jaws betrayed a calculus that weighed remaining on the job, against cutting and running for the high hills.

They shook their heads in dismay when relating a story about a patient who had all the symptoms of coronavirus, but was refused a test. He was refused because he had not recently been in a foreign country. It was steups all around, at this news.

Their fear was contagious as corona itself. I realized I was likely sitting in a petri dish full of Covid-19 germs. A hospital is not a good place to avoid a virus during a pandemic. I tugged at my IV line, but hell, they put that goddamned thing in pretty tight. And besides, I’m squeamish.

Finally an orderly came and wheeled me away from those future zombies, to my hospital room. The corridors of this medical facility were eerily deserted. In fact, I thought I glimpsed a few ghosts. “No visitors are allowed,” the orderly explained in a haunting whisper. “Coronavirus,” he breathed the word long and heavy.

The next few hours consisted of me loafing in bed watching Trump on the hospital room TV, as he delivered an uplifting press conference of false hopes and fulsome reassurances. And in the bottom-right corner of the screen, the Dow was falling like a stone over the Grand Canyon.

I finally received an echocardiogram. Which found nothing wrong with my heart, except that it was hollow like my head, and echoed a lot. Hmm, a mystery. So what caused my AFib? Later, a thin doctor with an Indian accent strode into the room and recommended that I see a cardiologist.

That was last week. Exactly one week later my heart went wild again. But this time my wife stuffed me into her car, rather than an ambulance, and trundled me to a better hospital.

There I received drugs to tame my heart, and all kinds of erudite medical advice. In one tidbit of twisted medical wisdom, my emergency room doctor told me that my condition was so serious, I should not be in the hospital. Huh? Not with the coronavirus going around, he pointed out. Hmm, I had a hard time wrapping my head around that strange concept.

But I guess these are the days we live in.

I’ve gotta level with my readers. My heart’s been giving me a run for my money lately, and I’ve been wondering if I’m close to cashing in my chips. I think I have to slow down. Perhaps sit out a few hands.

Part of that slowdown may include cutting back on blogging. So you may see a few less posts, comments, and replies coming from me in the future.

Okay, now that all the whooping, hollering, and gunshots fired in the air have died down, don’t expect me to go away completely. I’ll still be around, lurking and smirking in the shadows. And I also have a backlog of posts just festering to cover the blogosphere, like some kind of skeevy motel room bed rash.

But overall, things are likely to get a bit more quiet around these parts. Unless I’m like Colin, who says he’s going away, then stays and throws a party. Hey, what’s that all about, Colin? 🙂

But no, I’ve got to get some rest. I need a little more napping for awhile. And I might just up my meditation game, wax fey, and persuade my jumpy cardiac nerves to settle down around a stick of incense. I think it may help.

So it’s time for me to be like Manjushri, take a ride on a wild beast, and settle the fucker down. I have to go off and tame my heart gone wild.

In case you’re interested, here’s a little video about that dastardly heart condition, AFib:

Improving Our Bird Brains, Part 1: Anhinga

When my wife and I were sojourning in Florida a few months ago, we saw many strange birds we’d never encountered before in the wilds. I took photos just to have evidence I’d seen such weird looking critters. Then I looked them up on the internet, to identify them.

I don’t fancy myself much of a bird watcher, but I learned some fascinating things about these winged weirdos. Yep, I really improved my bird brain. And I figgered my followers might want to have their bird brains fixed up too. So this here’s a series I’m launching, called Improving Our Bird Brains. We’ll be reading it fer a spell or two, ‘til we’re all a might bit smarter.

This is Part 1. It’s about the Anhinga bird.

We first spotted the Anhinga at the Blue Hole on Big Pine Key. It was sitting in a tree with its head tucked into its wing, trying to sleep. Or maybe it was just shy. But once in awhile it would peak out and I’d try to grab a picture. I had to be quick, and on one of my snapshots I managed to capture its pointy face.

The male Anhinga is nearly solid black, with silver highlights in its wings. This is how this male, at the Blue Hole on Big Pine Key, appeared for a brief second, before poking its face back under its wing.

You’ll notice it has a long, sharp beak. It uses that beak to impale fish.

These birds are about 37 inches long, and have a wingspan three-and-a-half feet wide. They have webbed feet like a duck, but unlike most ducks, they can perch in a tree.

The Anhinga is also called the Loch Ness Monster bird. That’s because of the way it appears when swimming. It’s a water bird, but unlike ducks and many other waterfowl, the Anhinga has no oil on its feathers. So when it swims in a pond or lake, it is not buoyant. Rather, its body sinks way down low, and all you see is a long neck sticking out, kind of like the way Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster appears.

This low profile allows the Anhinga to sneak more stealthily upon its prey, sort of like a submarine with just its periscope sticking up. When it spots a fish, its long neck strikes with the speed of an archer, as its arrow-like beak skewers the fish. Then it tosses the unfortunate piscine up in the air and catches it in its mouth.

There’s a drawback to being without a pinguid integument. The lack of oil means the feathers of the Anhinga absorb water and become soaked. And so this bird is forced to spend much of its time sitting in trees with its wings extended, in an effort to dry them out.

Anhinga drying its feathers at Mrazek Pond, Everglades National Park.

The sight is haunting. If you’re ever hiking alone through a swamp and spot this black bird drying its feathers, with its outstretched, 42-inch wingspan, it’s likely to raise the hair on the back of your neck. And you might just turn around and run like hell, in horripilation. Until a hand reaches out from underground, grabs your ankle, and pulls you into quicksand.

In fact, the word Anhinga is from the Brazilian Tupi language, meaning devil bird. In America they’re also called water turkeys, because they resemble male turkeys while drying their feathers.

The Anhinga is found all over the world, in warm, shallow waters. It’s been known to migrate as far north as Pennsylvania during the summer, but sticks to America’s southern coast in the winter.

The female Anhinga has a light tan neck, such as this beauty at Mrazek Pond, Everglades National Park.

Recrudescence

Today, guidelines from our government for countering the coronavirus are increasingly becoming mandates. And they are stripping us of more and more freedoms. And we Americans are rising to the occasion and surrendering our freedoms without a whimper or complaint. It’s no surprise. When faced with a common enemy, we are accustomed to standing in solidarity and making sacrifices to defeat our adversary.

The problem is, when the government takes our freedoms away, it has historically been reluctant to give them back.

Trump recently promised the current guidelines will only be for 15 days. But then he let the cat out of the bag and said that this could stretch until August. I sense we’re being strung along down a path of ever tighter control over our lives.

But it’s all for a good cause, right? Maybe, but I feel skeptical. And I feel skeptical because of recrudescence. In medical terms, recrudescence is the recurrence of a disease.

I feel doubtful that enforced social distancing is going to defeat the coronavirus in a short time. It seems to me that the more successful we are at social distancing, the more prolonged our agony will be. And the more likely our sacrifices will exceed the benefits gained.

Sure, we’ll flatten the curve and avoid spikes of serious cases that overwhelm our hospitals. And that’s great. But in the meantime the coronavirus will linger and resurge. That’s because not enough of our population will have acquired the immunity we would otherwise obtain from contracting this disease.

And so recrudescence will occur, over and over. And we will experience a cycle of relaxed restrictions, then renewed restrictions, over and over. Or more likely, the government will just decide to keep the restrictions permanent, and never bother with relaxing them.

We now stand a very real likelihood of going for months, years, or perhaps forever, without the following things:

  • Classroom education.
  • Airline travel, bus travel, and other forms of mass transit.
  • Freedom to travel outside our communities or countries for “non-essential” reasons.
  • The manufacture, sale, or purchase of many goods and services deemed “non-essential” by the government.
  • Freedom of assembly.
  • Government deliberations that are open to the public, such as city council meetings, court trials, and legislative debates.

Millions of jobs may also disappear under a prolonged policy of social distancing.

A black market may emerge, similar to that which arose in the Soviet Union, and other authoritarian states that have had highly regulated economies. And with this black market will come widespread corruption, murders of innocents, and an economic system where only the most violent can rise from poverty.

Have we Americans thought this through? Or are we too afraid to speak out against this abrogation of our freedoms, for fear of being labeled thoughtless or selfish? Or have I just read too much George Orwell?

Perhaps it’s the latter, and I hope so. Nonetheless, I suggest you buckle your seat belt. We may have a very long and bumpy ride ahead of us.

And that scary, tough guy who lives down the street? You know, the one with the guns, criminal history, and scofflaw attitude. You better start waving and smiling at that motherfucker, and treating him nice. One day you may depend on him for getting the goods and services our government is making impossible to acquire.

In fact, one day, perhaps long after the coronavirus has become a memory, he may be the new disease. Because guys like him may have the run of our neighborhoods.

Recrudescence.

River of Romance

Johnny Mercer’s career was on the ropes. From the 1930s to the 1950s he wrote music for big stars like Fred Astaire, Louis Armstrong, and Bing Crosby. He even recorded some Big Band hits, himself.

But by the 1960s his career was at an ebb. Rock ‘n Roll had cut into his popularity. His long string of hits had snapped. He lost popularity with the young crowd, and nobody wanted to hear Mercer’s old fogey style of music anymore.

Then came the Paramount Pictures movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in 1961. This movie starred Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard. Hepburn played Holly Golightly, an outgoing, naive, socialite and wannabe show business star, with a mob connection. But she has a secret. Her real name is Lula Mae Barnes, and she came from rural Texas, escaping a childhood marriage.

Holly is looking to marry for money, even while being romanced by an aspiring writer of modest means named Paul Varjak (George Peppard).

A theme song was needed for the movie, and Henry Mancini was charged with writing a tune that captured Holly Golightly’s true, inner character.

Mancini watched a performance by Hepburn in the 1957 film, Funny Face. He felt an inspiration and within 30 minutes composed a melody. It was a simple tune, designed to conform with the limited range of Hepburn’s untrained singing voice. He now had the notes, but needed help with the lyrics. He turned to Mercer and gave him a chance to change his fortunes.

The first words Mercer wrote were, “I’m Holly, like I want to be, like Holly on a tree back home . . .”, but he quickly scrapped that. It just didn’t feel right.

Then he remembered the Back River. This was a river he grew up next to, in Savannah Georgia. He reminisced over the palmy days he enjoyed as a kid, playing by this dreamy body of water. And it suddenly occurred to him that this river captured the inner self of Holly’s true character. The Lula Mae Barnes from rural Texas.

He had already written some sentimental lyrics about this river, so he found them and incorporated the lines within Mancini’s melody. And he made sure that the last line paid tribute to his boyhood friend who liked to pick huckleberries alongside the Back River.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s was to be a romance film. So instead of using the name of his hometown river, Mercer named the song Blue River. That sounded more romantic to him.

He met with Mancini, and while Henry played the melody, Johnny crooned the lyrics. It sounded great to them, so they cut a demo for the movie’s producers, and it sounded great to them, too. But then Mercer learned that the title, Blue River had already been taken. He had to change it. So he came up with something else romantic sounding. Moon River.

Hepburn was one of the first to fall in love with Moon River, and the very first star to record it. In one of the film scenes, she tries to elude a date by hiding out on a fire escape. There, she holds her guitar and reflectively voices the words with quiet, whispered passion, and softly-strummed bars, as an admirer secretly watches from above.

She did a great job, but almost for naught. Paramount Pictures president, Martin Rackin, thought the movie was too long and wanted the song and scene cut from the film. In his words, “Well, the fucking song has to go.”

Mancini went pale. The cast felt stunned. They peppered Rackin with all the reasons why it should stay, and why other cuts should be made instead. And at the suggestion of her beloved tune being cut, the normally quiet and demure Hepburn went ballistic. She declared, “Over my dead body!” while deploying colorful language to match Rackin’s.

Rackin relented, the song was saved, and Hepburn’s vocals helped the tune win an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Sadly, when Mancini cut an album containing Moon River, Hepburn was left out. It was released with his chorus’s vocals only, in 1961. It was a moderate hit, rising to #11 in Billboard’s charts. I think it would have gone higher had Hepburn’s sultry voice been included. However it did win the 1962 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

Amazingly, Jerry Butler also had a #11 hit with the tune, simultaneous with Mancini, in 1961.

Later, it became the theme song for Andy Williams’ 1960s television show, where Williams sang the first eight bars at the beginning of each episode. In fact, Moon River became Williams’ signature song. His version made it onto an album, but was never released as a single.

There was pressure in the 1960s to release the version with Hepburn’s voice, but studio executives quashed that idea, and it never made it to an album or single.

Audrey Hepburn came to be defined by the extroverted character, Holly Golightly. Yet she was actually an introvert, much different from the character. Even so, she always loved the song Moon River, and must have felt disappointed that her soulful rendition was never released.

In January, 1993, Audrey Hepburn passed away at age 63, from a rare appendiceal cancer. The timing was rather cruel, because only a few months after her death, her version of Moon River was finally released on an album, entitled Music from the Films of Audrey Hepburn.

Moon River relaunched Johnny Mercer’s career as a songwriter. He went on to write Days of Wine and Roses, again with Mancini, which also won an Oscar for Best Song. It’s the only time in history that a songwriting team ever won back-to-back Oscars. And in 1965, Mercer wrote Summer Wind, which became a big hit by Frank Sinatra.

Yet Moon River remains the song he is most known for. And I understand why. It’s my favorite love song. No other song does better at capturing the romance of life, love, and long-term relationship, than this soul child of Mercer and Mancini, in my view.

To me, its words symbolize the imposing challenge of love (wider than a mile), the thrill of meeting that challenge (I’m crossing you in style), and the rewards and risks at stake (dream maker, heart breaker).

Call me a romantic, but the two drifters off to see the world would be my wife and me. Over the decades we’ve definitely seen a lot of this world, both figuratively and literally. She’s been my huckleberry friend as we’ve drifted down Moon River, chasing so many rainbows together.

I especially like the original version of this song, and I think you might enjoy it too. So for your viewing and listening pleasure, here is Moon River, by Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly:

Moon River, wider than a mile,
I’m crossing you in style some day.
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker,
Wherever you’re goin’, I’m goin’ your way.

Two drifters, off to see the world,
There’s such a lot of world to see.
We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waitin’ ’round the bend,
My huckleberry friend, Moon River, and me.

Macrolepidoptera

We drove through the famous tourist trap, Duval Street, on our recent visit to Key West, Florida. The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory caught our eye. Fortunately it was early enough in the morning to find a parking space, so we put some money in the meter and ran off to chase butterflies.


Macrolepidoptera is Latin, meaning large, scaled wings, which is sort of like my skin in winter. But it’s actually an insect order that includes moths and butterflies. What’s the difference between a moth and a butterfly? Let’s put our moth skills to work, and figure this out.

Moths have been around for 190 million years. That’s a long time. Butterflies are latecomers. They evolved from moths around 56 million years ago. They came to being in an area that is now known as Denmark, and they spread to the Americas around 34 million years ago.

We bought our tickets and stepped through the whooshing vacuum doors of the Conservatory, and were immediately surrounded by living color, fluttering like feathers all around us. It felt magical.

Moths are usually nocturnal, whereas butterflies are almost always diurnal, working both the day and night shifts.

Moths tend to have dull colored wings that camouflage well on fuscous surfaces such as wood and bark. Butterflies usually have brightly colored wings. Moths hold their wings close to their bodies when at rest, while butterflies display their colorful wings like a spread-out fan while resting.

Classical music drifted in the background as I cursed these polychromatic creatures, who would not sit still for my camera. Butterflies are restless and can be very challenging to photograph. Except this sympathetic guy, who stood on a leaf and posed for me.

Most moths lay their eggs underground. Butterflies usually lay their eggs on plants, especially the hidden undersides of leaves.

Moth larvae envelope themselves in silky cocoons during their pupal stage, whereas most butterfly caterpillars simply harden into a chrysalis, without any surrounding silk.

Butterflies have a four-stage life cycle: Egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and imago (winged adult). The imago stage is also called the imaginal stage. In psychology, imago refers to an idealized concept of a loved one, which we form in early childhood and retain unconsciously as adults.

Some adult butterflies live only a week, while others survive nearly a full year. As they age, the color of their wings fades, and their wings become ragged.

The faded and ragged wings of this butterfly indicate it’s most likely a senior citizen.

Life cycles vary in length with different butterflies. In warmer, tropical climates, species tend to produce several generations per year. In moderate climates they often have only a single generation per year. And a few species, in cooler, arctic climates, have a life cycle lasting several years.

I have no idea the names of any of these butterflies at the Conservatory, but I’ll call the one on the left Jason, and the one on the right Colin.

There are about 18,500 different species of butterflies.

The smallest butterfly in the world is the Western Pygmy-Blue. At only 3/8 to 3/4 of an inch in size, its habitat ranges from eastern Oregon to Nebraska, and south to South America.

The largest butterfly in the world is the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, found in the rain forests of New Guinea. Its wingspan grows up to a foot wide. It’s an endangered species, due to habitat destruction from oil palm plantations, and a volcanic eruption in the 1950s. International law prohibits the commercial international trade of this insect, but some collectors buy them on the black market anyway, at prices up to $10,000.

Monarch butterflies are famous in North America for their habit of migrating thousands of miles south to overwinter in Mexico. They’re native to the Americas, but somehow managed to disperse worldwide several hundred years ago.

This butterfly has a wing with an unusual yellow ring. In fact, it’s such a unique specimen I’ll give it the scientific name of Macrolepidoptera unicornica.

Butterflies have hindsight. They actually have photoreceptor eyes on their asses. Or to be more precise, their genitals. These ass-eyes help them when mating to accurately align their genitals, to achieve copulation. I’m sure we’ve all had a few scary experiences where we can see how this would be helpful.

As for the eyes on their heads, butterflies have excellent near vision, but lousy distance vision, unless equipped with glasses or contact lenses. They can see color, and some species are especially good at detecting hues in the blue /violet range.

This is a Macrolepidoptera tippygnusis. Hey, as long as I’m naming them, I might as well feed my ego.

Butterflies detect odors with their antenna, and taste with their feet. I’ve always thought that some humans have taste in their feet, also.

Some species can hear, while others are deaf. And some communicate with each other through clicking sounds. Using Morse Code, I’ll bet.

They drink water with their curly proboscis, and also use that strange, unwinding thing to sip nectar from flowers. Some species of butterflies are attracted to salt, and will land on the skin of humans in order to obtain salt with their proboscis.

Butterflies getting their morning Vitamin C. If you want to attract these volant insects, this appears to be a way to do it.

Butterflies are important pollinators. They can’t carry as much pollen as bees, but they do carry it over greater distances, helping flowers spread their DNA far and wide.

Many butterflies are territorial, kind of like hummingbirds, and will chase off other species, or even intruders from their own species.

Butterflies can only fly when their body temperature is above 81F (27C). So in cool weather they warm themselves up by exposing the underside of their wings to the sun. In fact, this is why the underside of some butterfly wings are so dark. The dark colors help in the absorption of heat.

Butterflies are great at camouflage. Some uncannily resemble leaves. Others have splotchy-patterned wings that make them look like unpalatable bird droppings. And many butterflies have eyespot patterns on their wings. These distract predators, such as spiders, from attacking their vital head areas. Spiders are fooled into attacking the eyespots, giving these insects a chance to fly away and escape.

Eyespots on a Macrolepidoptera carolynicus. It’s a sweet tasting butterfly, but the spiders that try to catch it can’t figure out where it begins or ends.

Some butterflies protect themselves by having flight patterns that are very erratic. If you try to catch them, they’ll make you run around in crazy circles with your net. The fastest butterflies zoom about at 30 miles per hour, requiring a motorcycle to catch them. But some can only achieve speeds of 5 miles per hour, and are easy targets.

But the easy targets often taste terrible. I’ve never asked a frog or a lizard, but this is what I’ve heard. They consume toxins from plants, that make them poisonous. It’s a good defense mechanism. So good that other butterflies, that would never consume such foul-tasting toxins, mimic the appearance of the terrible tasting butterflies. And when frogs, lizards, birds, or other predators see them, they leave them alone.

Is this Macrolepidoptera crankypantsia edible or poisonous? Hard to tell. This depends on whether or not it drinks coffee.

Butterflies are fantastic creatures, colorful in both appearance and behavior. I like them better than moths, but moths have their good points too. Or at least, I’m sure every larva has a moth that loves it.

Spring is coming soon. I’m looking forward to it. Because with it will come warmer temperatures, flowers, and most especially, the fluttering wings of the majestic Macrolepidoptera.

The tickets were well worth the price, even though it always hurts to open my wallet. We said our goodbyes to Jason and Colin, and all the other colorful inhabitants of the Conservatory. They waved their wings goodbye to us, and we departed Key West with a sense of enchantment in our souls.