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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Terlizzi

The Common Buckeye

Common Buckeye--newly hatched in 2001

Back about a 100 million years ago, when I only had two kids--and life still revolved around sippy cups and folding strollers--we lived in Monterey, California for a brief time. Those were halcyon days: my husband, an active duty Marine stationed at the Post Graduate School, was home every afternoon before 5. I was a stay-at-home mom to our young boys, and everything was simple and as it should be--there was no portent of the mental illness and drug abuse that would later make our older son's life so difficult.

We spent that summer before he started kindergarten mostly outdoors. Monterey is shrouded in chill and fog a lot of the time, but when the sun comes out and the gray burns away, it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The boys and I spent the summer exploring tidal pools until we couldn't feel our feet anymore in the freezing water. We hiked the coastline near Pebble Beach and scanned the horizon for whales, and ate ice cream while watching giant sea lions bob around the boats in the marina. Idyllic.

Despite all of the days we spent near the ocean, my favorite memories from that time are more terrestrial. Monterey was the place where my son discovered butterflies. His fascination began with the dainty hairstreak butterflies we spotted flitting around the clover in our yard, but expanded to include the monarch, painted lady, and especially common buckeye.

Releasing a common buckeye butterfly

Somehow we discovered that the flowers planted near Cannery Row were host plants for the buckeye caterpillar, so off we'd go to search for them—my older son on foot and his wild little brother captive in a stroller. In almost every photo from this period my son is holding something you can't quite make out--a leaf or twig with a caterpillar riding on board. (We later learned to carry an empty jar with us wherever we went.)

My son with his net and butterfly "house"

My son raised and released a ton of buckeye butterflies that summer. To this day (he is now 24!) he still looks for caterpillars whenever he hikes, and his knowledge about them is encyclopedic. His life hasn't been easy. HE hasn't been easy, so it's reassuring to me that some of the passions of the little boy weren't extinguished in the man.

When I decided to make a buckeye butterfly cane, all those sweet memories of Monterey came rushing back. I couldn't wait to show my son.

"Hey, that's pretty good, he said. I've been waiting for you to make one of those for a long time." I'm glad I finally got around to it.

Hindwing cane for buckeye butterfly

Common Buckeye earrings

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