So much arts and sciences, so little time. For my past two Almanacs I have promised a story of Karner blue butterflies.

Well, nature ain’t simple, and as I started this week’s column, I realized that I incompletely understand this story. I need more discussion with Karner blue acolytes and others, and there are more books to read and so on. As John Muir said: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

So, let’s bequeath to the future a fuller tale of the Karner blue. But for now, a brief introduction to this tiny blue butterfly amid an even broader consideration of how science and nature is indeed, far from simple.

What does the Karner blue have to do with Vladimir Nabokov, Charles Mann, my brother David Chatfield and the Endangered Species Act?

Nabokov, a Russian novelist turned American émigré, was one of the most celebrated literary figures of the 20th century, being nominated for the National Book Award seven times and having two of his works listed by the Modern Library among the 100 best novels of all time (Pale Fire and Lolita).

He was also an amateur entomologist. His taxonomic studies, some of which are enshrined at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Harvard, led to the classification of the Karner blue as a subspecies, which made its way onto the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services list of endangered animals.

Charles C. Mann is a science journalist. To sort of prove Muir right, when I first Googled Charles Mann I came across the fact that he also was a four-time Pro Bowl tight end. But, oh, that was a Charles A. Mann. Charles C. Mann is our author of interest, most pointedly for his book Noah’s Choice: The Future of Endangered Species.

David A. Chatfield is a Ph.D. metallurgical engineer who, after years of research at National Steel, went into management and became the manager of the Midwest Steel plant near the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore between Gary, Ind., and Chicago. David is an avid hiker and nature lover.

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973 and “provides for the conservation of species that are endangered or threatened throughout all or a significant portion of their range, and the conservation of the ecosystems on which they depend.”

So, the connections? In 1992, Midwest Steel, as accounted in Noah’s Choice, wanted to avoid shipping waste from steel production across the country to East Coast landfills. How about an on-site landfill on National Steel land? It would save money and avoid environmental transportation hazards.

As required and with the detail-oriented focus of a large company with plenty of engineering skills, they planned and planned for innumerable eventualities.

There were inspections relative to the suitability of the proposed landfill site, with a number of environmental assessments. What would happen to the waste over the years? Would there be impacts on groundwater, and what about impacts on plant and animal life? This kind of attention to details and regulations takes years of planning. As I say with food preservation: those who plan, can.

As my brother recounts it, the last inspection finally arrived, by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. My brother and many others walked the property, contemplating the coming landfill and elimination of the costly, and potentially hazardous, transport of waste to New Jersey. A series of elegant solutions to a challenge.

And as they neared completion of the walk-through, a flash of … blue. Blue? A single Karner blue butterfly (eggs were also found on a dead lupine stem), flitted about the proposed landfill-to-be. Or not to be. Full stop. Uh, Dr. Chatfield, this is going to complicate matters. Thus engendered, a series of endangered species events transpired over the next several years.

First, as noted in Noah’s Choice, “Workers dug up more than 1,600 of the deeply-rooted lupine plants with a stump-puller [lupines are needed for Karner blue reproduction] and transplanted them to a new site, where a special lupine irrigation system had been installed. The company also planted more than 3,200 lupine plants and sowed more than 8,000 lupine seeds.” As David relates it, once the new lupine luxury suites were established, they needed to cut down a woodland that was providing too much shade.

Charles Mann relates in the book: “Overall, the move cost about $1.5 million — money Midwest Steel was glad to spend, given the alternatives.”

David adds a bit of spice to that narrative, however. After all was said and done, he asked the IDNR specialist: if provided $1.5 million to do whatever might be best for the dunes area, this was how he would spend it. According to David, the answer was something like “Of course not.”

Which brings up the dilemma of all issues relative to the complications of good intentions, economy and ecology (both words have the same Greek root oikos, meaning family, property and house), Muir’s true sentiment of all things being connected, and the rollicking course of us ever trying to align economy and ecology, nature and nurture.

As Mann writes, the goal of the Endangered Species Act as it “provides for the conservation of species that are endangered or threatened throughout all or a significant portion of their range, and the conservation of the ecosystems on which they depend” is easier said than done.

The Karner blue’s range is wide across the mid-northern area of the Eastern U.S. In our immediate vicinity, it’s northwest Ohio from the old prairie lands near the Oak Openings, through those dune areas in Indiana. Mann notes there are hundreds of thousands of acres of prime Karner blue land, 1,300 miles apart, from New Hampshire to Minnesota, and broadly including the area currently known as Chicago, Toledo, and Albany, N.Y. Billions upon billions of dollars would be needed to truly restore the Karner blue lands.

The questions of reasonable compromise are never-ending, as are all issues of the sciences and arts of Nature.

I was talking with a conservation biologist in Michigan City, Ind. a few months ago. He worked on the National Steel site two decades ago, and he anecdotally noted that no Karner blues have been detected there for many years. That will lead to future articles, rebuttals and perspectives. It shall be grand.

So, complete conservation is not realistically possible. If we even had the resources and interest to do so, what about other current ecologies and economies that would stand in the way, not to mention the other species, that would be endangered? It is never as simple as we would like to think, though, it is also important to try to figure out to what extent we should try. As Joni Mitchell wrote: “Don’t it always seem to go, that we don’t know what we got till it’s gone. We paved Paradise, put up a parking lot.”

End Note: Since I thought I needed a more thorough take on the Karner blue, at the beginning of this article I thought I would postpone writing the whole column and just do a few short notes on it and other items.

I was going to add comments about how ‘Prairifire’ crabapple went from highly resistant to moderately susceptible to apple scab disease. And how did the Bacillus thuringiensis bacterium go from the darling of the organic gardening movement to a dreaded soldier in the Frankenfoods trope?

Or does the Armillaria fungus infect the entoloma species of mushroom resulting in the aborted entoloma mushroom, in the process making it more edible, or is it the other way around? Does the entoloma fungus actually infect the armillaria fungus?

Not to mention what happened with ash trees in North America and what does it tell us about birches in Europe. Or …

Second End Note: As for my next entry, arborist Chad Clink contacted me recently and said, hey, why don’t we do the trees of Moses Cleaveland. Done. I wonder, though, if he means burning bushes and trees-of-heaven. Or …

Final End Note: I promised that picture of broccoli casserole from the holidays. Here it is. It’s made with good Dijon mustard, Gruyere cheese, bell pepper, tomatoes, caraway seeds, and Paul Newman’s oil and vinegar dressing. The key is flash-steaming the broccoli such that it retains its crispness and bright green color.

Jim Chatfield is a horticultural educator with Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about caring for your garden, write to chatfield.1@cfaes.osu.edu or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if you write.