The worker gently pinches the wings of the butterfly and lifts it out of the transparent container. She sets it on her finger, letting it flex its wings before it leaps into the air and flutters away, joining the thousands of butterflies flitting from plant to plant inside Columbus’ Franklin Park Conservatory’s Pacific Island Water Garden.
Twice a day, workers at Franklin Park release newly emerged butterflies into the sanctuary. It’s part of their annual Blooms & Butterflies exhibit. My wife, Beth, and I took our boys—7-year-old Will and Owen, who’s 4—for a day of exploration, starting at the conservatory. We were primed to see hundreds of butterflies from the moment we first entered—butterfly chrysalises off to the side of the entryway in a little display. Some butterflies had just emerged, and they hung, opening and closing their wings. Many other chrysalises were bright green, still waiting.
Will and Owen rushed up to the glass and eyed the butterflies that had emerged. They spotted a giant brown one with dark spots—it was almost as big as my hand. From there we began our journey to the butterfly exhibit, strolling through room after room of plants from different climates. “Don’t touch the cactuses!” Will warned. We passed small fields of tulips and two macaws that playfully screeched and said “Hello!”
A worker lead us through a set of double doors into the Pacific Island Water Garden—the biggest space at Franklin Park. We immediately felt the steamy atmosphere and heard the sound of rushing water. Our boys ran up to the pool filled with giant goldfish. From the second we entered, we noticed big and little butterflies flitting from one spot to another. Sometimes they swooped by our ears—Owen kept ducking—while others stayed afloat higher up. Every time they came close, someone stuck out their finger in the hopes one would land there.
Our boys headed to a small tower to one side. We climbed the wooden staircase and admired a view of the entire garden, with its colorful foliage, babbling little streams, and giant red and yellow Chihuly glass sculpture in the center. From there, we watched the conservatory worker roll up a cart and release butterflies. A small crowd gathered around her, and everyone made little exclamations every time another butterfly took off out of her hand. Once each one launched, people chased it around with cameras.
What stood out the most to the boys was how the butterflies glided so quietly through the air. Sometimes their wings fluttered wildly, but sometimes they silently slipped by—even the big ones. On the way out, there are mirrors so we can check our clothes to make sure no enterprising butterflies have hitched a ride.
After we’ve walked through the exhibit, we head out for lunch. Inspired by the soaring butterflies, we drive up to Dublin to Jack & Benny’s Barnstormer Diner. We know we’re close when we see Cessna airplanes circling in the air. The Barnstormer is a true hidden gem and a favorite among Ohio State students and locals. Geno Garcia, the owner, is a pilot. He studied aviation at Ohio State before taking over his father’s diner—the original Jack & Benny’s Diner. He jumped at the chance to combine his two loves—the diner and airplanes.
This location is tucked into the side of a hangar at Ohio State’s Don Scott Airport. The cozy dining room is lined with black and white photos of pilots and aircraft, even astronauts and rockets. Will and Owen dart from one picture to another, spotting old biplanes and airliners. They peek through the window into the hangar, where small aircraft are lined up.
We’ve worked up an appetite, and Jack & Benny’s is the place to be. They serve breakfast all day, so we’re opting for some early morning grub. Before we know it, the table is full of omelets and huevos rancheros and an all-inclusive house specialty called The Gutbuster. Both of our boys love pancakes, especially the buckeye pancakes with chocolate and peanut butter chips. The silver dollar pancakes have an airplane shape pressed into them.
One of the perks of dining at the Barnstormer is the observation deck. The original control tower from the terminal is now open to the public. You can climb up the narrow stairs to get a full view of the runways. They pipe in the chatter from the actual control tower, and there are coloring books for kids.
We sit and watch the planes come and go. The OSU Airport is geared for smaller craft—no big jets—but if you’re lucky you’ll see small jets, the occasional helicopter, historical craft on tour, or even some military aircraft.
While we’re watching the planes, Owen suddenly exclaims, “It’s flying like the butterflies!” We look where he is pointing and, sure enough, the planes are gliding smoothly through the air just like our little winged friends. Standing there in the observation room, we start to feel like we’re back in the water garden at Franklin Park Conservatory, when the planes quietly flit about overhead just like colorful butterflies.
After watching the planes for a while, we head for home, where the boys are sure to play airplane for the rest of the day.
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