By Sean Barron
Part of the chorus to the popular 1997 Mariah Carey hit, “Butterfly” – “Fly abandonedly into the sun/If you should return to me/We truly were meant to be” – rather poetically describes a pleasing situation for Wilbert Torres and his three children.
“We come to this event every year. We haven’t missed yet,” the Youngstown man said, referring to Saturday’s fourth annual Butterfly Festival at Southside Community Garden near Williamson Avenue and Erie Street on the South Side.
Torres and his children, Breana, 5, Trey, 6, and 8-year-old Santonio, held small sponges that had been dipped in nectar or sugar water. Doing so attracted to them several of the estimated 85 butterflies that had been released into a 640-square-foot wooden enclosure – to the delight of hundreds of youngsters and adults alike.
The enclosed butterfly habitat, which is wheelchair-accessible, also features a variety of mulched box gardens with Russian sage, Arizona apricots and other flowers, as well as a ceiling of cross-hatched netting that is 35 percent shade cloth.
The four species of butterflies were monarchs, painted ladies, morning cloaks and black swallowtails, noted Lois Martin-Uscianowski, the garden’s founder and director.
During an informal “release service,” Martin-Uscianowski slowly navigated her way through the enclosure, freeing one or two butterflies at a time from 15-square-inch transparent envelopes that contained dry ice, which helped keep them alive.
“They won’t fly unless it’s 65 to 70 degrees out,” she said, adding that butterflies are cold-blooded insects.
Torres said he volunteers at the community garden by mowing grass, trimming bushes and performing other tasks to make the area more enjoyable and pleasing for his children.
Also enjoying the interactions with the colorfully winged insects were Torres’ sister, Wanda Vega, and her 6-year-old grandson, Kevin Matlock.
It didn’t take long for a monarch butterfly to find its way to 3-year-old Julianne Simmons’ sponge. She seemed intrigued by the insect’s wing patterns and colors.
Accompanying Julianne were her grandmother, Michelle Primm, and Primm’s friend, Suzanne O’Dell of Warren.
“I have a thing for butterflies,” O’Dell said as she held a small blue sponge. “I’ve always liked them.”
The free fest truly was a family affair for Eric and Sarah DeVault of Girard, along with their 2-year-old daughter, Sydney.
“This is our first time here,” Sarah said. “We found it on Facebook.”
Before the release, several volunteers, including Ryan Smith-McCann of Boardman, conducted tours of the enclosure and surrounding vegetable and flower gardens, some of which filled recycled tires that had been dumped on the property.
Those gardens are planted with corn, sweet potatoes, winter squash and sunflowers, Smith-McCann pointed out. Also in the vicinity are two rows of benches containing inscribed positive attributes such as “joy” and “self-control.”
Martin-Uscianowski expressed her gratitude to the John Wean Foundation for funding the enclosure, which provided considerably more space for the event than the 130-square-foot tent that had been used for the fest’s first three years.
Also at the family-friendly gathering were books on butterflies from the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, free milkweed seeds, milkweed plants for sale and prizes for children. Refreshments included butterfly-shaped cupcakes.