How Was Your Day … Former Model Turned Butterfly Researcher?

How Was Your Day … Former Model Turned Butterfly Researcher?

Why you should care

Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Alana Edwards
Delray Beach, Florida

Staying home on a Saturday night doing homework sounds so high school. But here I am again, working on my homework for my Ph.D. I just became a Ph.D. candidate, and the only thing I have left is to get out in the field and do some research. Here I am, back at school again, and I completely forgot all about how hard it was when I got my master’s. It took me 10 years to get my undergraduate degree.

At 18, I packed my bags and moved to Chicago to pursue a modeling career. I was a struggling print and runway model. I waited tables to pay the bills. I never made it. I worked with a girl who became very famous — Halle Berry. One morning there was a woman on TV talking about planting a butterfly garden. I was like, wait — you plant a plant and a butterfly comes into your garden? Let me tell my mom about this. I came home at Christmastime and she had planted a butterfly garden. She was teaching me about it.

And then I ended up moving back to Florida, and I got sucked in. People know that if you plant milkweed you get a monarch. But she and I became obsessed — we wanted to know what every butterfly was and what their plant was. We wanted to make sure we had every butterfly plant for every butterfly. Before long, I was taking pictures and doing slide shows, and I would go out to groups and tell them what they needed to plant a butterfly garden. We started the first chapter of the North American Butterfly Association in Florida. That was in 1995. When you first walk through my door, there are two butterfly floor mats: inside and out.

My partner thinks it’s nuts. He says, “You know, you don’t have to buy everything with a butterfly on it.”

Every photograph on the wall is either a photograph I’ve taken of a butterfly or butterfly art. Every dish and vase has butterflies on it. My sofa has a butterfly throw and pillows. Butterfly lampshades on my lamps. My partner thinks it’s nuts. He says, “You know, you don’t have to buy everything with a butterfly on it.” But then for my birthday, he bought me a beautiful bench for my garden in the shape of a butterfly. I guess I give myself a little credibility because I’m not just some person with butterflies; I’m actually studying them in the real world.

There is a rare butterfly called Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak; it’s a federally endangered species. It’s found in the pine rocklands of Miami-Dade County. This butterfly survives in areas that have gotten good fire, because the plant that it needs to live on will only grow well in areas that have had frequent fire. I’m measuring everything to determine what it is they need.

There are butterfly watchers and butterfly collectors. I’m a watcher. Going to a butterfly house is like cheating. It’s not as exciting as encountering them in the wild and not knowing what you’re going to encounter. It’s like a scavenger hunt. When it’s something that’s incredibly rare, I start screaming. I have a hard time getting the camera up. I’m shaking. I can’t get words together. I do feel I have been through an incredible metamorphosis in my life. Or maybe it’s a metamorphosis in reverse, because as a model I started as the pretty butterfly and now I’m ending up crawling around in the pine rocklands like a caterpillar.

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