Lunch over, the Nabokovs drove farther south. Nabokov's eyes wallowed in the gorgeous wind-swept buttes. "It looks like a giant chess game is being played around us." At 2:20 Mrs. Nabokov parked the car by the side of the road. Nabokov, net at the ready, was off like an eager boy. Mrs. Nabokov, retrieving another net from the rear seat, joined him. "You should see my wife catch butterflies," he said. "One little movement and they're in the net."
The grove was disappointing. "Rien," he muttered. He probed some bushes. "There is nothing," he said. "A hopeless place." They gave up the hunt and drove back to Sedona to shop. Vladimir followed Mrs. Nabokov into the supermarket. "When I was younger I ate some butterflies in Vermont to see if they were poisonous," he said, as his wife hovered over the cold cuts counter. "I didn't see any difference between a monarch butterfly and a viceroy. The taste of both was vile, but I had no ill effects. They tasted like almonds and perhaps a green cheese combination. I ate them raw. I held one in one hot little hand and one in the other. Will you eat some with me tomorrow for breakfast?" His visitor declined.
That night, still not surfeited with the day's steady diet of butterflies, Nabokov burrowed into a pile of scientific papers and pulled out the thickest one, his article on the Nearctic members of the genus Lycaeides H�bner. "This work took me several years and undermined my health for quite a while. Before I never wore glasses. This is my favorite work. I think I really did well there." Yes, the Soviets were aware of his work on butterflies. As recently as last November, one Lubimov had attacked him in the Literary Gazette. "He said that I was starving in America, 'compelled to earn a precarious existence selling butterflies.' " Nabokov laughed merrily.
The next morning, Nabokov was as chipper and as restless as ever. "Come on, darling," he called to Mrs. Nabokov during breakfast. "The sun is wasting away! It's a quarter to 10." Mrs. Nabokov took her time. "He doesn't know that everyone is wise to him," she said. At 10:10, Nabokov at last succeeded in luring her behind the wheel. "We are going to Jerome," he said happily. "The wood nymph should be out, I hope, on Mingus Mountain." While the car sped swiftly through a veritable Lolitaland, Nabokov said, "Butterflies help me in my writing. Very often when I go and there are no butterflies, I am thinking. I wrote most of Lolita this way. I wrote it in motels or parked cars."
The Nabokovs reached Jerome ("Welcome to Ghost City. Three places to eat") at 11:10. "Shall we catch my butterfly today?" Nabokov asked.
At a marker announcing the elevation to be 7,023 feet, Mrs. Nabokov parked. Both took nets from the back seat and walked up a dirt road bordered by pines. A yellow butterfly danced crazily by. Nabokov swung and missed. "Common," he said. "I'm just getting warmed up." Unfortunately, a 15-minute search of the terrain revealed nothing. Nabokov turned toward an iris-covered meadow. "I can't believe there won't be butterflies here," he said. He was mistaken. "I'm very much disappointed," Nabokov said, after searching the meadow. ''Rien. Rien."
Nabokov returned to the car. "It was very sad. 'And then I saw that strong man put his head on his forearms and sob like a woman.' " At 12:40 Mrs. Nabokov stopped again. "This will be our last stop today," Nabokov said. "It is this kind of place that my wood nymph should be flying, but with the exception of three cows and a calf, there is nothing." "Do we have to mix with cows?" asked Mrs. Nabokov.
They got back in the car and drove " toward Jerome. "Sad," said Nabokov. " 'His face was now a tear-stained mask.' " Five minutes later, he had Mrs. Nabokov stop at Mescal Canyon. "We may be in for a surprise here," he said. Alas there was none. He walked up a dirt road alone. Mrs. Nabokov lent her net to their visitor. With a whoop of joy, the visitor snared a white-winged beauty. Cupping it in his hands, he showed it to Nabokov who dismissed it airily. "A winged clich�." It had been a poor day for hunting. There would be other days to come, but the visitor wouldn't be there. As the car swung out for the journey home, Nabokov spread his arms and said sadly, "What can I say? What is there to say? I am ashamed for the butterflies. I apologize for the butterflies."
The apology was, of course, gracefully rejected.