MY BOYFRIEND’S ESTRANGED GRANDFATHER
by Rachael Tague
He was an alcoholic, a wealthy engineer, and a butterfly collector. He traveled all over the world, especially in South America, specializing in Southern California and Neotropical specimens, amassing a collection allegedly worth hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time of his death in late 2007.
His house in California must have been nothing but walls and racks of display cases – wings ranging from the size of a buttercup blossom to an oak leaf. Splotched, banded, eyed, lined, swiped, swirled. Splayed and mounted, framed, flocking Emperors, Brushfoots, Daggerwings, longwings, snouts, and Swallowtails, sleek, fuzzy, feathered—frozen.
It happened on a bridge—or rather, off a bridge—in the Kosnipata Valley of Atalaya, Peru. He ventured away from the Association for Tropical Lepidoptera early on the morning of November 4. As there were no witnesses, they can only assume that he spotted a rare butterfly – perhaps the one he traveled to Peru to find – misjudged its distance from the bridge railing, and flung his net too hard.
Accounts of the height of the fall range from thirty to five thousand feet, frozen in flight for an instant, barely long enough to snatch a breath of the air rushing around him before he met the dry river bed. His association initiated a search when he didn’t show up for dinner and discovered his body in the ravine, net in hand, and the butterfly trapped, flapping in the fibers.
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