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Caring for another species

From a high perch on protected public refuge land, an Oregon silverspot butterfly forages nectar from a thistle flower.

Far below and just a few miles south, the dense collection of homes lining the shore remind us that habitats are shared. Survival for this federally-listed "threatened" species depends on the efforts and concern of others.

When I wrote about my earlier mosaic "Caught" which features a school of Pacific sardines, the concept of value emerged. How we determine what is valued, and what is not. Why one species merits protection, while others are eradicated without a second thought. The sardines suffer a fate tied to their low species value (to humans). The silverspot butterfly shows us the other, more hopeful, side of that idea.

Loss of fragile habitat to changes in human activity is the crisis here: meadows overtaken by forest because the historic use of fire by Native people has been replaced by a no-fire management style. Non-native plants are aggressively moving across the landscape, introduced by decades of human visitors.

The butterfly's delicate life cycle depends on access to specific plants at different stages of life, like the early blue violet during its larval stage, which is outcompeted by the new plant communities. So volunteers and staff at organizations like the Nature Conservancy, the Oregon Zoo and numerous government agencies have raised butterflies and thousands of violet plants from seed in their restoration work. Years of work planting violets, removing weeds, releasing butterflies and the funds required have been dedicated to this effort.

Although it's one of the most popular hikes in our state, those traveling the Cascade Head trail don't often see the Oregon silverspot in person. For this tiny butterfly we have gone to great lengths ensuring they might persist, despite their threatened status. Amazingly, one of the main hiking and driving routes onto the headland is closed to hikers for half the year on behalf of this insect. For a butterfly rarely seen by most of us.

We humans frequently blanch at the idea of making sacrifices that can help other species. From management of forests, rivers and oceans to small changes in our behavior that may slow the change of our climate. We have the capacity to care. Can our choices reflect it?


This 14" x 21" mosaic is created with smalti, the traditional small-batch, vibrant and textural glass designed for mosaic, alongside stained glass. Land features are mostly formed in smalti, which stands above the flat, smooth planes of stained glass that make up the sea and sky.

It is currently on display (and available for purchase) as part of the exhibit by Northwest Mosaic Artists' Alliance, touring various non-profit gallery venues. Visit this page to see the exhibit schedule, or contact me directly for purchasing information.

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