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Josh Lincoln in a Maine Bog

The Winds of August

Heart Attack Edition

August 26, 2020  |  by Bryan Pfeiffer  |  63 comments  | 

Here in Vermont, a chilly unease blew in on crisp northwest winds today. It’s not that three years ago today I nearly died in the woods from a heart attack — the unease has nothing to do with that. Instead, if you’re like me, chasing butterflies and dragonflies around New England, you know that our grand diversity and abundance of insects is now over.

Don’t get me wrong: those winds and this post constitute no lament of summer’s end. To be sure, the warblers no longer sing and the fritillaries have lost their glow. Yet August sings with crickets and glows with asters. The blackberry crop seems fine this year. And the Monarchs are coming.

Leonard’s Skipper on Northern Blazing Star.

Even so, I tend to mark a change of season in the flight of one particular insect: Leonard’s Skipper (Hesperia leonardus). If a butterfly can signify anything beyond grace and an affinity for plants, Leonard’s Skipper flies at a bend in the arc of summer.

Our Leonard’s Skipper in classic open-winged posture.

Scarce and yet robust, this butterfly is on the wing here from about mid August to mid September — the last of its kind to show itself each year. Its relatives have already had their spring and summer flings.

I spent about six hours in one spot with Leonard’s Skippers in Maine last week, watching them frolic in the Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and nectar on a rare and vulnerable plant — Northern Blazing Star (Liatris novae-angliae). I would show you more images of this autumnal skipper, except that my computer died yesterday, and I won’t get back to those images until the machine is either revived or replaced (and I then restore my 20,000 photos and documents, some dating back to my first computer back in 1985).

And rather than pontificate on a skipper, which I did last month anyway, I’ll use the rest of this post to offer you but a fraction of the multitudes I’ve been enjoying in the three years since I did not die of that heart attack. So here below, in no particular order, are various readings, podcasts and flying things in my life since I reported to you on the blog nearly a month ago. Oh, by the way, that shot above is of my pal Josh Lincoln on a bog in Oxford County, Maine (those yellow flowers are Horned Bladderwort, at least I think they were). And below I’ll close with a summertime gallery, including a some puppy shots. Onward!

The Written Word — At long last, I’m now reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Shame on me for taking so long to get to them. My life and summer are also being enriched by Safe as Lightning, poetry from Scudder Parker, on which I will report to you in a separate post. And for searing perspective on the pandemic I suggest Ed Yong’s How the Pandemic Defeated America in September issue of The Atlantic.

Online and in My Ears — The epitome of essay writing, at the intersection of human nature and our vanquished planet, comes from the novelist John Green and his podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed. John reviews aspects of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale: Halley’s Comet and cholera in one episode, for example, or air conditioning and sycamores in another. Each essay, of course, is about us. (I give the podcast five stars.) Finally, a Vermont weather report and lovely photography arrive each morning by email from John Hadden’s East Street Weather Blog (although John is now on break).

Now, finally, some photos.

  1. scott sainsbury says:

    HI Bryan,
    Sorry — I just got through the mass of “must reads” for a chance to enjoy your latest “want to read”.
    Don’t you love “Braiding Sweetgrass”? I was much moved by her way of looking at the world — and expressing it in written language. Inspirational with a touch of sadness. I grew up in the finger lakes and knew many of the places (good and bad) that she described. My mother had a great reverence for the lands and waters there. She was a physician, and founder of the first NY State Pure Waters Association on Canandaigua Lake. I am sure that she and Robin Kimmerer would have been kindred souls.
    Pat and I did some work for the Cornell Botanic Gardens a couple years ago. Kimmerer had been there speaking just two weeks before. We were sorry to have missed her. I hope to see her someday. And… very much look forward to seeing you again soon. Stay well. Best, Scott

    • Hi Scott,

      My apologies for the belated reply. Thanks for the kind words. And, yes, what a treasure in Braiding Sweetgrass. It’s so nice to hear from you — and, gosh, it’s been much too long since we’ve seen each other outside! I’m sending my best to you and Pat — and we will indeed see you at some point on the other side of the pandemic, if not before!

  2. Bessie Weiss says:

    We’ve been thinking of you and Ruth. Will we have the pleasure of your company this September on Monhegan? We will be there for a week starting on September 19th. Bessie

  3. Rita Pitkin says:

    So nice to hear from you Bryan. We are lucky to have you with us, teaching us to see all of the time. Thank you.

  4. Kate Achor says:

    Have you heard the latest episode: The Anthropocene Reviewed, Reviewed? (I too am a fan.)

    • I just listened. I had seen the title and feared this was exactly the case. Well, one thing about The Anthropocene Reviewed: I’ve listened to each episode twice. And I suspect each will be just as rich the third time.

  5. Lucy Golden says:

    Wow! What a bright spot to explore in my email account! Thank you for this reminder of the marvelous world that we live in, populated with amazing creatures, and some pretty good people too.

  6. Michel Bertrand says:

    Take care of your heart, Bryan !
    We need people like you.

  7. Scudder H Parker says:

    Thank you for this lovely post, Bryan. Wonderful, as it always is. So glad you are enjoying Safe as Lightning. Great to see you, Ruth, and Odin in an appropriately socially distanced visit. Susan and I are so glad you are so much alive in this wonderful community of friends. (Odin is a delight, and though they are busy and concerned parents, Bryan and Ruth are being raised by a wonderful dog.)

  8. Patricia Fontaine says:

    With you in the mix, almost all things seem manageable and downright joyful! I would add “The Book of Delights,” by Ross Gay to your list – how the author balanced racism with a daily essay on delight. It rocks. Like you!

  9. John Hadden says:

    Thanks for the shout-out Bryan—I appreciate it! Your blog is always on my must-read list when you post them. Keep ‘em coming!
    Cheers, John

  10. Louis & Beverly Megyesi says:

    Dear Bryan,
    Beverly and I have enjoyed many nature adventures with you over the years, and we hope to enjoy many more with you. It had to be a frightening attack in the woods. We are happy you are still with us, helping us as our guide to immerse ourselves in nature. Your newsletters and photographs are superb.
    Louis & Beverly

  11. Thank you again for such exquisite prose, and grateful that you are well. I will be releasing 75 Monarchs from my “nursery” this year. last year was 95, and our osprey family raised 3 ! onward into Autumn!

  12. Miriam Lawrence says:

    The world is so much better with you in it, and showing it to us as only you can. Happy third “re-birthday,” my friend.

  13. Patricia Clay says:


    I remember the day I read about your heart attack and was so relived that you survived that terrible experience. Very pleased that you are still able to enjoy nature at it’s fullest and share your beautiful photos.

  14. Jo Lafayette says:

    We are a lucky group = so thankful you are still here to remind us of the wonder and magic in our world. Stay well, and never stop sharing the amazing pictures and beautiful prose.

  15. Annie Grace Bassage says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!!!

  16. Barb Smith says:

    I love reading your blogs. And I miss traveling with you. Keep on keeping us informed.

  17. Connie and Bruce says:

    We are so glad you didn’t die that day! Let us know the next time you head to Texas.

  18. Wendy Blakeman says:

    Always enjoy your blog postings. Many thanks and grateful you are still with us!

  19. Roberta Downey says:

    Bryan, so many of us have benefitted from having you around. I’m still enjoy
    Ing your beautiful Moon over Grand Canyon photo hanging at our condo. Be well in the world.

  20. Jill Weber says:

    Glad you are still here and super glad that you waited a week til you got back to VT to have your heart attack and didn’t do it when we were far out in a Maine bog! I’m finishing Braiding Sweetgrass too!

    • Yeah, it might have sucked to have nearly died during class. I think it would have affected my “grade” and gone into my “permanent record.” Can’t have that. When I do die, however, it might be nice to do it in a bog, right?

  21. Jessanne Wyman says:

    Hi Bryan we encountered flocks of little orangish and black/brown butterflies on the tracks of an old farm road in Shelburne at Meach Cove Farm. There were about 10-12 clusters of them. We enjoyed seeing them.
    I can send you a short video if you’d like.

    • Hi Jessane, Yes, by all means, send me a video by email () or post a link. Thanks!

  22. Sally Edwards says:

    I am happy that you are still with us, too! Great photos and article, as always.

  23. Meena Haribal says:

    I have not seen Leonard’s Skipper. I hope to see them one day in Ithaca area! Nice article and be well!

  24. Bryan, if one of the signs of a good writer is for the reader to be able to hear him saying those words while laughing and gesticulating, then you’ve got it. You’re right there with me, my friend. Stay around. We all love you.

  25. Veer Frost says:

    Vermont is a place of gifts, and I count this blog high among them. It reminds me of back when Orion magazine began to make available exquisite nature writing and observation in the Barry Lopez and Terry Tempest Williams tradition. It must be devilish hard work to write this well! Plus beautiful pics for learning what to look for. Thank you, Bryan!

  26. Laura Fried says:

    Go Dog, Go! The last of the tattered fritillaries drinking from the spiky Echinacea blossoms, the Autumn Joy Sedum turning pink, plus leafless Milkweed plants and fat caterpillars!
    So much to do and see. Go Dog, Go!

  27. Kristen Lindquist says:

    So grateful that you are still with us, Bryan, and that I continue to learn from you and admire the beauty that you share with us through your words and images.

  28. terry allen says:

    So glad you are still around and writing so warmly and well.

  29. Leigh Seddon says:

    Thank you Bryan for continuing your service in connecting all of us to the beauty and importance of the natural world. We’re all so grateful you made it home from Mt. Hunger that day.

  30. For not lament the summer lost, as indeed we reaped bounties from hear rays and long days. Yes, many of our winged friends now seek their winter homes, leaving us to wrestle with fallen leaves and firewood. For everything there is a season… I too, just happen to really like summer. Over 200 insect species I photographed on our 1-acre plot this summer. I wish them all a good rest and hope to see them again next year.

    Thank You Bryan for carrying us along your summer and now to come fall journeys. Happy to see you in your classic chew toy pose, though I wonder if Odin thinks you are trying to steal the show.

    Happy three year anniversary,
    we are so happy and rewarded with your presence.
    Cheers, be well, and keep your wings clasped – it is getting cool out there already.


  31. Carol Day says:

    It almost seems as though every “summer creature” displays
    beautiful colors …. brilliant in the summer sun !

  32. Dru Macy says:

    I’m so glad you’re still with us!


    Thank you, stay well. I relish your beautiful articles about the gentle creatures in life.

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