This summer we have been on a quest for one of America's rarest and most endangered butterflies--the Mitchell's Satyr. Instead of just posting a photo--and saying "Look, we found it!" I decided to tell you the story from the beginning. Because these butterflies would probably not be in the fen we were searching, if it were not for a young man who was on a quest of his own many years ago. Come back each evening the next two days for the rest of the story.
In 1830 a young man set out on horseback from the rolling hills and grand forests of upstate New York and made his way to what would become the state of Michigan. He was in search of a farm of his own. But he would not settle for just any piece of Michigan land.
For this young man was first and foremost a seeker of beauty. Let the other young men claim the mundane flat land that is too easily plowed and turned into endless fields of corn and wheat. This young man needed land that would speak his name and make his heart sing. He would settle for nothing less than pure beauty.
When he arrived in what is now southern Michigan, he found work at a blacksmith shop. He worked hard earning money there, and on every day off would ride his horse for hours through the countryside, searching for that tract of land that would claim him as its caregiver.
One day, the young man brought his horse to a halt on the top of high esker. Spread out before him were the grassy rolling hills, marshland, and stately forest that his heart knew so well, from days of roaming land just like it as a boy in upstate New York. The wind in the tamaracks whispered his name and he knew that he belonged to this land.
So begins the story of our search for Mitchell’s Satyr butterflies.
For hidden deep within the marshy meadows of the almost 700 acres of land, is a little fen that is host to these rare and endangered butterflies. Throughout America, most of their wetland habitat has been drained and turned into subdivisions and cropland. There are only a few places left where you can find Mitchell’s Satyrs—as far as we know, they are only in a few scattered fens in Michigan and Illinois.
Three generations of farmers have farmed that land with care, guarding and nurturing the beauty that spoke to their father and grandfather when he first stood on that high esker so long ago. They knew they had a treasure—and it is not just the butterflies in the fen. A treasure trove of native plants and the only remaining virgin beech forest in lower Michigan are also hidden in the heart of that 700 acres. Three generations of farmers have protected these treasures and have chosen beauty over profit.
The first time I drove my Explorer around the bend and pulled into the driveway of what is now a dilapidated old farmhouse, with barns across the street that are showing their age, I caught just a glimpse of what that young man saw and I felt like I had come home. I had no idea who I would find inside the old farmhouse or the story behind the land, or what lay beyond the hill that the house was build on, but I felt just a little bit of what that young man felt in 1830. Perhaps it was because I too had grown up with the rolling hills and stately forests of upstate NY—and no matter how much I have come to love Michigan there is always just a little bit of heartache for what I left behind.
The man inside did not make my job as a homecare nurse easy. I had a job to do, and Medicare rules to follow. He was a man used to doing things his own way, Medicare rules be hanged! And I don’t think he was used to trusting strangers. Thankfully for me, old farmers are always my favorite patients, no matter how non compliant and crusty they might be. It was the day that I asked him why his grandfather chose these hilly acres to settle down on and build a farm instead of just buying some flat practical farm land that he started to trust me. His response could be summed up in a few short words—and I totally got it: “Because it reminded him of upstate New York where he grew up.” And he saw that I totally got it—and he knew that I would appreciate the treasure that he is the guardian of.
By the time he was ready to be discharged from homecare services I had a standing invitation to roam his land any time I wanted.
Read part two--"Finding Mitchell's Satyrs Isn't Easy" here.