Free to Fly
A wintry weekend jaunt to Deerfield, Massachusetts
Inside the conservatory, it doesn’t take long for one of them to land on Kathy Fiore’s forearm. The large rice paper butterfly, a silvery yellow with black veined lines, hails from Southeast Asia. Although it flies in a gentle, floating manner and is now perched, inert, a little visitor, standing shyly with her father, watches it warily. “You don’t need to be afraid,” Fiore says, holding out her arm. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Do you want it to go on you? If you stand very still like a statue, it will.”
Part of the charm of the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory, in Deerfield, Massachusetts, is that “We enter their world,” says Fiore, who co-owns the business with her brother. “We have an 8,000-square-foot exotic environment, typically kept at 80 degrees, that is designed specifically for tropical butterflies.”
A few thousand of the insects, representing some 45 species—blue morpho, cairns birdwing, the piano key, glasswing—flutter about throughout the year. The hothouse is packed with host plants hanging, spiraling, and blooming around a Japanese koi pond with a bubbling waterfall. A 30-year-old Senegal parrot, Akbar, lives there, too, along with families of Chinese button quails, four tortoises, a blue-tongued skink, a Colombian tegu, and 20 Gouldian finches.
The lepidopterans fly relatively free, gliding, dipping, and darting among visitors. Lighting on host plants, they gain sustenance from ripe bananas and papayas, just as they would in their natural habitats. They also spend their time in the conservatory resting, mating, or laying eggs, Fiore says. “Obviously, you need your males and females, and we have so many of each species that you definitely have mating happening, and that’s how the staff can collect eggs and we can propagate 75 percent of our butterflies on site.”
The eggs are taken to greenhouses where caterpillars hatch, consuming up to “the equivalent of 40 pounds of salad a day for humans,” Fiore says. Once formed, the chrysalises are moved to the nursery. About 50 are put on display in a glass case in the conservatory so visitors can watch the butterflies emerge with tightly folded wings; thereafter, it takes four to six hours for the wings to be ready for flight. Once released into the conservatory, the creatures typically live between two weeks and two months. “We find they do not have a lot of predators here, maybe a toddler now and then,” says Fiore, “so we find we get their full life span.”
Leading a tour through the conservatory, she reminds visitors not to run around or touch the butterflies. Even chasing them with cameras is counterproductive. “You never see a butterfly land on somebody riding a bike, right?” she tells people. “As soon as you make a motion toward them, they see that as a threat.”
The best way to experience the conservatory is to sit quietly on a bench and watch. The more you look, especially in the cold winter months, the more you might find out that the conservatory is also a bit of a haven for humans.
After communing with butterflies, there’s plenty of other things to do in Deerfield, along with fine food and drinks. From the conservatory head less than two miles down the road to the Tree House Brewing Company. The Massachusetts craft beer company offers drafts on tap and pizza served in a huge indoor atrium and patio dining, with fire pits, along with brews ordered to go,and a host of non-alcoholic options. Check the schedule for seasonal musical performances.
Further north, in old Deerfield, explore 12 antique homes comprising the nonprofit museum Historic Deerfield (open through November 27). Focused on early New England history and culture, especially within the Connecticut River Valley, known for its fertile farmland, this quaint district, where English immigrants first settled in 1669, offers an authentic experience of colonial village life. Stash the car and meander the mile-long Main Street—enjoying the sense of time warp—while also stopping for tours of the preserved homes (dating from 1730 to 1850), which are packed with a robust collection of period furnishings and artifacts. Alternatively, take one of the guided or self-guided walks through the village, town common, and adjacent fields, conjuring images of pastoral times. The nearby Deerfield Inn also offers rooms with an Early American motif—and the cozy Champney’s restaurant, with fireplaces, tavern-style bar, and classic dishes like chicken marsala, shepherd’s pie, and steak frites, along with soups, salads, and sandwiches. The locally owned Richardson’s Candy Kitchen (less than a mile away), offers dreamy handmade chocolate creams, cordials, caramels, and nut clusters, and a slew of penny candy. For old-fashioned-styled goods and holiday gifts—like tea towels, coiled rugs, jams, calico fabrics, baskets, candles, and kitchen gadgetry—check out the Old Deerfield Country Store. Weather allowing, take time for hiking in the adjacent Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation. Take the road (closed to cars in the winter) or one of several trails to the summit (Pocumtuck Ridge is the most challenging) or zig-zag up the slope to the observation pavilion. Both destinations offer sweeping panoramic views of the Connecticut River and the valley. All told, from butterflies and craft beer to historic homes and scenic vistas, Deerfield is well worth a wintry weekend trip.