Nabokov walked on. At 9:45, he gave a quick flick with the net. "This is a checkered butterfly," he said, looking at his catch. "There are countless subspecies. The way I kill is the European, or Continental, way. I press the thorax at a certain point. If you press the abdomen, it just oozes out." He took the butterfly from the net and held it in the palm of his hand. "This," he exclaimed, "is a beauty! Such a beautiful fresh specimen. Melitaea anicia." He took a Band-Aid box from his pocket, shook loose a Glassene envelope and slid Melitaea anicia home to rest. "It's safe in the envelope until I can get to a laboratory and spread it."
In good spirits, he pushed on. Something fluttered across the trail. "A common species," he said, walking on, maneuvering the net before him. "The thing is," he said, "when you hit the butterfly, turn the net at the same time to form a bag in which the butterfly is imprisoned."
Nearby, another butterfly was feeding on a flower, but Nabokov ignored it. "A dusky-wing skipper. Common." At 10:03, he passed a clarus sitting on a bare twig. "I've seen that same individual on that same twig since I've been here," he said. "There are lots of butterflies around, but this individual will chase away the others from its perch."
At 10:45, Nabokov lunged wildly off the trail and raced up a rocky incline. Whatever it was escaped in the underbrush. At 11 O'clock, he stopped short. "Ah," he said, a tremor of delight rocking him ever so lightly. "Ah. Oh, that's an interesting thing! Oh, gosh, there it goes. A white skipper mimicking a cabbage butterfly belonging to a different family. Things are picking up. Still, they're not quite right. Where is my wood nymph? It is heartbreaking work," he complained. "Wretched work."
Back at the cabin, Mrs. Nabokov, fresh from writing letters, greeted her husband in Russian. "Let us hurry, darling," he said. Mrs. Nabokov smiled indulgently and followed him down the porch steps to their car, a black 1957 Buick, where she got behind the wheel.
JOURNEY IN A NERVOUS CAR
The car wouldn't start. "The car is nervous," Nabokov said. At last it started. Mrs. Nabokov drove onto Highway Alt. 89 and headed to a butterfly camping ground several miles north. At 11:26 (Nabokov standard time), Mrs. Nabokov swung over to the left side of the road and parked by Oak Creek. Nabokov leaped out. "Now we'll see something spectacular, I hope!" He waved farewell to Mrs. Nabokov with his net and jogged down a rough trail. He stopped. A butterfly was sipping nectar from yellow asters. "Here's a butterfly that's quite rare. You find it here and there in Arizona. Lemonias zela. I've collected quite a few. It will sit there all day. We could come back at 4, and it would still be here. The form of its wings and its general manner are very mothlike. Quite interesting. But it is a real butterfly. It belongs to a tremendous family of South American butterflies."
The morning turned up a few more interesting specimens, but still no wood nymph, Nabokov noted sadly. Once he swished the net triumphantly and trapped two butterflies. He grinned savagely. "Lygdamus blue—female," he said. "This other, by freakish chance, is a male blue of another species that was flying with it. That's adultery. Or a step toward adultery." He let the offending male fly free unpunished.
Another time Nabokov swung and netted three butterflies, one an angle wing. "It has a curiously formed letter C. It mimics a chink of light through a dead leaf. Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that humorous?"
Still shy of a bona fide wood nymph, the Nabokovs headed south to Sedona for lunch. "I lost two butterfly collections," Nabokov recalled, as the car sped along. "One to the Bolsheviks, one to the Germans. I have another I gave to Cornell. I dream of stealing it back."