They say a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Be that as it may, I like to name things. Through naming comes knowing and in knowing, understanding.
I can name most of the mammals and many of the reptiles and amphibians I encounter, and I’m well acquainted with the birds. But when it comes to some wildlife, I feel like I need to be reintroduced.
On a recent Saturday morning I was working my way along a stretch of trail here in Pittsburgh that just so happened to be crawling with creatures of all kinds. I immediately recognized some: red admiral, silver-spotted skipper, pearl crescent, white cabbage. Others looked familiar but required a brief perusal of the field guide to confirm: eastern tailed-blue, clouded sulphur, great spangled fritillary, common whitetail, ebony jewelwing. And still others I felt I was meeting for the first time: red-spotted purple, wild indigo duskywing, and my new personal favorite, variable dancer.
No doubt I’d crossed paths with these animals many times before, maybe even looked at them. But I’d never examined them at close range. And I’d never known their names.
It’s not that I don’t think butterflies and dragonflies and damselflies are cool. On the contrary, I love all wildlife. I can’t imagine living without wild things. It’s why I could never volunteer for the Mars One project. I could go without Netflix and even people for awhile, but until they discover some birds, lizards, or monkeys on another planet, I’d like to stay here, thank you very much.
I spent my childhood in field and forest, or at home with my nose buried in a bird book. But that’s the thing: I focused on birds. Any time I tried to stop to admire a beetle or coneflower, I’d almost instantly be pulled away by a bunting or grosbeak. I blame it on my self-diagnosed BDD (bird deficit disorder).
And still every summer, typically in July when most of our birds are quietly tending to young in the shade and being more or less undistracting, I spend some time getting to know the other creatures that share our world.
There on the Nine Mile Run Trail, just outside the hustle and bustle of downtown Pittsburgh, I went around and introduced myself to everything that flew, swam, and crawled across my path.
It’s amazing what one may discover when one stops to smell the roses.
About the Author
Kyle Carlsen is the assistant editor of Bird Watcher's Digest. Find him on Twitter @kycarlsen.