Thousands of bright yellow and black swallowtail butterflies stream from water puddles. They are massed in the roadside gutter and alight at our approach. I can’t help hitting a few as we drive up the Selway River, but most move in fractured waves from the roadside to the edge of the forest until we pass.
At the mouth of Gedney Creek, checkerspot butterflies flutter around us as we have lunch. These are perhaps northern checkerspots—I have only a quick look and no guide at hand. After lunch, we load our daypacks for a walk up Gedney Creek.
The creek is loud. The sound dominates. As we walk, I try to shift my focus from my ears to my eyes. I can see the creek only through drooping, lichenized branches of the cedars and around the brighter green of the small willows and cascara. The creek is a rush of white, churning water. Darker water, which can has lines of Prussian blue, holds to a few stretches on the opposite side of the creek, where a cliff face constrains the channel.
My eyes adjust to the cedar forest. Where we begin the ground is relatively open, except for fallen logs, wiry stems of snowberry, trailing Linnaea, and clumps of miner’s lettuce that have dimpled petals. A few weathered bead lilies, their leaves hanging like the tongues of tired dogs and their flowers worn-out, sit in the cedar debris.
For about two miles, the trail parallels the creek, and it holds largely to the riparian zone. This moist place is lush. Thimbleberries stand taller than our shoulders, and, at their branch tips, cupped white flowers look directly into our eyes. The tips of tall bracken fern fronds brush our biceps as we pass. Slender stalks of valerian, which have delicate white flowers, stand from the lower, leafy vegetation, including clumps maidenhair ferns.
In sunny openings, blue butterflies jangle in flight above blue flowers of penstemons that have a hold among rock outcrops.
The trail climbs abruptly in switchbacks that take us up the slope and away from the creek. The water’s rushing noise recedes. The temperature warms.
In a moist niche, where we stop in shady woods to gather our breath, we see a small, brown skipper caught in a spider’s web. The butterfly’s wings flutter rapidly. A small spider treads the web toward the butterfly. Suddenly, the butterfly pulls away from the web. We are surprised. It flies upward—just inches—and then goes downward—we inhale deeply, expecting the butterfly to catch again in the spider’s web—but it veers right and lands on the rounded shoulder of a mossy stone that anchors a corner of the web. The moment feels perilous. We back away, leaving uncertain the butterfly’s story.