Splat…splat…splat. Over and over. Butterflies. Mile after mile of hundreds and hundreds of butterflies. The painted ladies are doing well this year. Unfortunately for them, their migration route is intersected by Interstate 40. Here, outside of Ludlow, California, I’m committing vehicular lepidopteracide at an alarming rate. In a manner that is both macabre and hypnotic, I’m captivated by the split second before each impact when time seems to stop: the butterfly hovers mid-flight only feet away in crystal clear profile against the blue, late-morning sky, orange wings outstretched as it strives towards its singular purpose, oblivious to impending calamity. That suspended instant unfailingly passes as Chronos reasserts his reign and 3,000 pounds traveling at 75 miles an hour collides with 0.5 grams of Vanessa annabella. In a most unnatural metamorphosis, butterfly transforms into yellow smear on windshield with an onomatopoetic splat.
Crows line the highway, feasting on carcasses. At rest stops, every car appears to be covered in egg yolks or to have been shot with yellow paintballs. I think of the thousands of vehicles daily covering this stretch of interstate and wonder at how many butterfly fatalities that must add up to. Of unintended consequences in this seemingly desolate landscape of high desert. Of how I-40 killed Ludlow itself – now with a population of 10 and consisting of a gas station-cum-Dairy Queen – when it superseded Route 66. Of how I came to be driving it at that moment, saying goodbye to more than just butterflies and ghost towns.