Howard Hoople is a butterfly aficionado who is all business when he talks about his passion. What would you expect from a man with an MBA from Harvard University?
While butterfly watching and finances may seem an unusual pairing, Hoople says there are commonalities between the two. After working for years in the non-profit hospital finance sector where he "cared deeply about health care," he said, it's the butterfly's patterns and designs that he finds most appealing now.
"[Butterflies] are a work in progress and it's amazing...I'm still a student and I've got so much more to learn," said Hoople, who has been studying butterflies for about 13 years and is the North American Butterfly Association's vice president-East.
Catching butterflies as a kid is what started his lifelong fascination. He hoped to share it with his wife and two kids, now all grown up.
"My wife is supportive but gets restless on walks," he laughed. "My kids, forget it...no interest."
These days, his dog is his faithful companion on hikes. On his website, andoverbutterfly.net, underneath a terrific photograph he took of his dog and a butterfly he wrote "former bored hiker observes a black swallowtail."
Like any numbers guy, Hoople can rattle off as many butterfly stats as you want. For example, he said there are 15,000 to 20,000 types of butterflies; 700 types in the U.S.; 100 types in Massachusetts; and about 50 types in Andover.
"Andover is a tough place to find butterflies," he said.
But it's not impossible. Come March 15, Hoople probably will be rolling around the grass at the south side base of Ward Reservation, facing Boston, attempting to take a close up photograph of a butterfly.
"It transitions from meadow to forest there and butterflies love that," he said.
Like people, adult butterflies will be searching for some post-winter sunshine in March. That's a spot they like to land for warmth.
Wet meadows, like the one on the parking lot side of the Stevens Coolidge house in North Andover, are also good places to spy a butterfly.
Boston Hill also offers butterfly sightings.
"Three acres has been cleared and seven more (acres) were cleared last fall," he said. "Restoring the area to what it was - a grazing meadow - is what's going on."
A longtime member of the state's Trustees of Reservations group, he cares deeply about the environment and protecting it for future generations. He occasionally leads butterfly walks around Andover that are sponsored by Ward Hill Trustees of Reservations of Andover.
He never knows what he'll see on his butterfly walks - if anything. If he does see a butterfly, Hoople certainly gets in close for the butterfly shot, about two inches from the delicate insect. After all, butterflies typically have very small wingspans.
"I'm not a professional photographer," he laughed when talking about his camera's capabilities.
But his photographs have appeared in magazines and butterfly journals. Plus, he sells a butterfly calendar ($12.95) and butterfly note cards ($10 for six) on his website.
Quiet but with a clear sense of humor, Hoople said few people know of his butterfly interest. An Andover resident for 27 years, he's seen his share of poison ivy, blurry photos,trips without butterflies and rain outs of scheduled walks. He laughs at the memories.
His is just a small window on how environmental changes have affected the life cycle of a butterfly, he said.
"I'm not a scientist," he emphasizes. "I just enjoy this."