Saturday, September 04, 2004

The Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

Janet, as you may already know, works at the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory on upper Duval Street. The Butterfly place, as it is often called, is the one of the biggest tourist attractions in Key West. Some say it was voted #1, but I haven't been able to find out by whom or when.

Until last Sunday, I hadn't visited the place despite having an open invitation to do so. Last Sunday, the Disney Magic cruise ship cancelled its Key West stop, so Janet called me and suggested that i take advantage of an expected slow day to make my first visit. I did so. What follows is something I wrote while I was there.


I visited the Butterfly Conservatory, as it is commonly referred to, today for the first time. I was stunned when I walked into the Conservatory itself, nearly to tears. I thought I knew what to expect, but it was far beyond what I expected, way more than I could have imagined.

I mean, how hard could it be? A huge glass greenhouse, one that I'd seen many times while driving by on Duval Street. Once, I even drove into the parking lot in the back and had a look at the structure from that angle. Janet described it to me in superlatives soon after she began working there, so I figured I already knew pretty much everything there was to know. Butterflies of course, lots of them. Birds (the kinds that don't eat insects). Plants and flowers. Nice music.

What greeted me when I went through the protective "airlock', two sets of double doors designed to prevent butterflies from escaping into education gallery and the rest of the shops in front of the conservatory dome, what greeted me just knocked me back. I first noticed the almost-fluorescent blue Monarchs (I think), then two bright red ones mating on the brick walkway, just in front of me. It took a moment fro my brain to regain control from my eyes, and to reactivate my other senses. It was then that I noticed the music, peaceful, yet played through what must be an extraordinary sound system, at just the right volume to fill the huge space, but not loud enough to prevent quiet conversations among the visitors. I walked the entire length of the brick path which meanders in a double loop through the interior, among a riot of bushes and flowers, alongside babbling brooks and fountains. It can all be seen in a matter of ten or so minutes if one hurries through, not stopping long to examine or observe anything in particular.

After doing that tour rather slowly, I backtracked and sat down on the butterfly-shaped metal bench where I'm sitting now. I spent a few minutes reflecting on what was seeing, unmoving. A small butterfly with black wings with pastel blue markings settled on my shirt front. I felt another land on my head. I didn't move lest they fly away, and spent a couple of minutes looking at the one on my chest. I supposed that he or she was taking a brief rest form the efforts of flying and, sure enough, they both went on their fluttering way soon enough.

There's a line I remember from somewhere -- I thought it was from Amazing Grace but it doesn't appear to be -- that goes "I scarce could take it in". That's how I was feeling. There was so much to look at, to think about, that I didn't know where to begin.

Sam Trophia and George Fernandez are equal partners in the business, as they are in life. Sam's lifelong interest in butterflies began when he was a child, it led him to open a small shop in Key West a number of years ago, then a second one in Clinton Square Market near Mallory Square and the HTA tourist shopping complex nearby, and is today culminated in a truly spectacular attraction.

Other things noted

The building itself is a great piece of architectural and engineering work.

The gift shop, where Janet works, is a large step up from the typical Key West gift store in terms of the quality of the merchandise offered.

The gallery store, offering a large selection of mounted butterflies as art, some of it spectacular and priced as art, not merely as butterflies.

The ebb and flow of the music, going from something soft and ethereal to something more lively and lilting, and then back again. It fits the space well and adds to the overall epxerience of a visit.

The sound of the the water running in artificial brooks and in fountains, and the sounds of small songbirds flying freely among the butterflies and the flowers and shrubs.

I thought to myself on first going in, "I hope that heaven has places as nice as this". But, as I told a friend who took over my bench when I left, "I also hope that heaven has places like Schooner Wharf." Wow, how good that would be.

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