Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the June 14, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:
TORTOISESHELL IN SHARP SUNLIGHT
One sunny afternoon I got drowsy, found an unvegetated serpentine outcrop where there wouldn't be ticks atop grassblades, lay on the warm stone almost naked, and took a catnap in the sun. When I awoke maybe ten minutes later a butterfly of a type I hadn't seen was enjoying the sweat in my socks lying next to my head.
For a long time I just watched, savoring the sunlight working in the butterfly's rich wing-colors. The wings slowly pumped, the proboscis probed and the antennae quivered, and I don't think I've ever seen a butterfly so alive, that sunlight translucing through the wings leaving me breathless. I knew that no camera could capture that moment so that I could share it, but maybe if I told you about it and showed you the picture, maybe the two things together could help you see and feel a little of what I saw and felt. That's the resulting picture above.
Really it's irrelevant what species the butterfly was, that butterfly who flew away the very moment the picture was snapped. However, if you're curious, it matches the Milbert's Tortoiseshell, AGLAIS MILBERTI, in my field guide. They say it inhabits "cold desert to rain forest and city lot to alpine summit" throughout Canada, including the Far North, south to southern California, Oklahoma and West Virginia. Its caterpillars eat nettles.