Chapter One

I like the ones who can disappear, even while you're looking at them. Butterflies, I mean. And the others.

Yes, yes, I know that most collectors favor the showier varieties. They are lured by the jewel tones and opalescent shimmer. And yes, the monarchs are impressive, with their red orange and stark black color scheme, and broad wingspan. And the blues can go from sapphire to the gentlest powder. And the greens can range from emerald to almost yellow...

Those last are more attractive to me, because they can blend in more. The jade green can flit almost unseen through the tangle of a jungle. Hunter green can crouch in summer grass. The green-yellow-yellow-green-almost-gold can flit through the autumn leaves of the aspen tree, blending even as they move. Their fluttering becomes a part of the shifting, dancing leaves, and it's hard to tell that there's something alive there. But I always know.

It's been like this since my boyhood. It's a hobby, I suppose. But it's taken a different direction from the typical run of obsession. I've never been thrilled by the cataloging, the meticulous naming and preparing and presenting and displaying that seems to consume most lepidopterists.

Yes, I have my displays. Under glass, and on cork boards. Neatly pinned, stretched out in fragile perfection. My walls hold blazes of blue and red and purple and black and yellow and green...Not so much green. Because that is so natural.

I had a visitor ask me once. He'd heard that there were butterflies and moths that had the most amazing protective coloring. Insects that could resemble a dead leaf, or a living one. A twig at rest. Shadows in grass. Yes, I'd agreed, there were those. So why didn't I display them?

I showed him the large terrariums, the lidded glass tanks, lined with vegetation, and dead leaves, and loam. With branches, and dishes of sugar water. And he stared for a long, long time, before at last he tapped the glass near what seemed to be a pile of leaf mold. And it twitched. Tissue paper scalloped wings, beige and brown, flexed, then settled. "By damn, I almost didn't see him."

"Her." I say. "Didn't see her. For the live ones, I only collect the females."

That's how it's always been.

With the brightly colored ones, the one's I'll preserve and display, it doesn't matter. Male, female, whichever is brightest. But for my specials, for my pets... Only the female. The small ones, and the large ones. Only the females. Only the women.