The butterfly counts not months but moments,
and has time enough.
There is perhaps no animal as beautiful and yet fleeting as a butterfly.
And yet for Nelson Curtis, his brief moments with fluttering color
have added up to the better part of 30 years.
Curtis, the former chair of the art department at the University
of Idaho, began collecting butterflies to keep his young daughter
amused one summer. When it was time for school, she lost interest.
But her papa had “caught the bug,” so to speak.
In particular, Curtis was both fascinated and frustrated that there
was no literature on Idaho’s butterflies.
closest thing that I could come to a piece of literature that would
help me identify them was a book about Colorado,” he says.
“And there is a world of difference between Colorado material
and Idaho material.”
So began an obsession with finding and documenting Idaho’s
154 butterfly species and many more subspecies. Along the way, Curtis
estimates he’s collected “somewhere between a quarter
and a half million” butterflies.
The collecting was in part an antidote to the stresses of teaching.
“I really enjoyed getting outside,” he says. “I
dealt with people all though the school year. And toward the end
of every year you get the feeling deep inside that if one more person
calls your name, you’re going to stop what you’re doing
and choke ‘em to death.”
were also ubiquitous. He could collect them almost anywhere. He
needed very little equipment. And Idaho’s geographic variety
meant there were also many different kinds of butterflies.
Indeed, Curtis was also captivated by the endless variations in
what he was seeing.
“I like the variation that occurs in them. Because that’s
what happens with people. There’s no two people alike and
there’s no two butterflies alike,” he says.
He worries that humans are increasingly eroding natural diversity.
go to a lot of trouble to produce things for industry that are identical,”
he says. "And that’s troublesome. It’s hard to produce any
two things alike. And nature doesn’t do it. Because the procedures
and processes of nature is based on trial and error. She’s
constantly experimenting, She’s producing all kind of aberrations
that may lead to a breakthrough in survival.”
Curtis has most of a book written on his collection, but no publisher.
He hopes to leave his collection of butterflies to someone who will
continue to study them.
“We badly need more information on them, especially in Idaho
because the land is changing, we’re getting more people, new
industries coming in, new pesticides are being invented by the day,
faster than new toothpastes. And these things are going to take
Nelson's Butterfly Facts
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