Where to find summer in the middle of winter

Butterflies enchant the masses during the New England coldA new friend Soleil Flanagan, 6, of Guilford, Conn., pauses after a butterfly landed on her cheek at Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in South Deerfield. Photo: Sarah Crosby.

By Natalie Wise

What better way to shake off those winter doldrums than to visit a magical year-round indoor version of summer?

One visit to the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in South Deerfield, Mass.; one soft landing of a monarch butterfly on your shoulder, and you’ll be transported to an ideal summer day.

Here, lush tropical plants abound. Button quail squeal and run about underfoot. Amphibians and reptiles hang out on trees and in their own ecosystems. Benches are found around every meandering corner.

Lepidoptera (insects that include butterflies and moths) of all kinds, colors and sizes flit and float around the greenhouse. This magical atmosphere in the middle of winter is a welcome respite and chance to warm your spirit, prompting visitors from all corners of New England to spend the day.

A female Cairns butterfly. Photo: Sarah Crosby.

In operation since 2000, Magic Wings hosts an 8,000-square-foot glass conservatory for butterflies, moths and their friends inside its 18,400-square-foot building. The conservatory stays around 80 degrees year-round for the tropical vegetation to thrive, and for visitors from across New England to thaw out during the winter months. On extra-cold days, there will even be a real fire in the massive stone fireplace as you enter. There is a food court, too, so you can make a day trip of it, staying in the warmth to be fueled by soups and sandwiches to fortify you against the brutal outdoor weather. Whether you’re bringing your children for a fun adventure, attempting to get some up-close nature photographs, taking a trip for a date, or celebrating a birthday, Magic Wings has something to offer everyone.

“I like the steamy feeling, and it’s just so nice and it cheers you up. There are so many green leaves and pink and purple colorful flowers,” said Ellie, 9, from Southern Vermont, who was visiting with her family.

She said she loves “that it’s always warm and cheerful and there’s button quails running everywhere and butterflies and things.”

More than 3,000 butterflies of all varieties inhabit the greenhouse. Button quail are another popular feature for Ellie.

“I just love all the button quail paths behind the shrubbery where only they can go. I loved the time that we got to see a mama button quail and two baby button quails that were up for adoption,” she said.

Her sister, 5-year-old Katie, agreed.

“I love the button quail with her nest, with her eggs,” Katie said.

The only downside in Ellie’s opinion?

“My camera always runs out of batteries,” she said.

A cattleheart butterfly rests on a flowering plant. Photo: Sarah Crosby.

That isn’t a problem for professional photographer Bill Steele from Brattleboro, Vt., who loves to visit Magic Wings to take photographs and to enjoy the day with his grandchildren.

“Magic Wings is a great place for photographers to practice close-up photography of subjects that are sometimes difficult to find in natural environments,” he said, referring to the friendly butterflies who are used to showing off for their human admirers.

Butterflies will land on you, including on your face if they like you, which elicits giggles and exclamations of awe from visitors of all ages. It seems the butterflies like bright colors, particularly purple and blue, so dress like a colorful flower to potentially attract more butterflies (but you might want to bring something much less attractive if you or your child might be scared of the butterflies coming close).

A Saturday date at the conservatory is always a good idea, too.

Chris, of Brattleboro, Vt., took his now-wife to the conservatory on their first official date in 2001, when the conservatory was only a year old. The idea of a secret garden with magical butterflies in the middle of a New England winter is a pretty romantic idea, indeed. But Chris recommends dressing in layers for the extreme temperature shift.

“I wore a green wool sweater, and it’s a good 80 degrees in there, so I was dying,” he said.

Chris and his wife still joke about that. Now, they share the experience with their daughters, ages 9 and 6, and visit at least once each winter, often meeting up there with cousins who also have young children.

Alexandra Zaret, 9, of Easthampton, left, and Soleil Flanagan explore the conservatory. Photo: Sarah Crosby.

Family photos and the perfect selfie can be taken in Magic Wings’ iconic yellow butterfly wing chairs.

“Remember the butterfly seats that are all yellow? You could sit in the seats and they have wings coming out of the seats,” recalled Katie, 5, excited at the thought. There’s also a giant floating 12-foot butterfly above the admission desk, and all sorts of butterfly-themed items in the gift shop, including posters, jewelry and books.

Jackie, of Turners Falls, Mass., has taken her 4-year-old daughter to the conservatory every year for her February birthday.

“We love hopping into summer for a while,” Jackie said. “Not only the warmer temperature, but also breathing in some oxygen from all the plants is very therapeutic. Between the reptiles, amphibians, birds, bugs and butterflies, it’s fun, therapeutic and educational all in one.”

Employee Andrew Hastings holds Sammy the Frilled Dragon for visitors to interact with. Photo: Sarah Crosby.

Joy, from Chesterfield, N.H., now in her 20s, has fond memories of visiting Magic Wings yearly as a family tradition.

“When I was younger, I imagined I was in a jungle. It was warm, comfy, and almost had you forgetting it was cold and bitter outside. Then you see the butterflies …” she said, losing herself in the memories again.

Magic Wing is a place where generations can come together, share old memories, make new ones and snap photos. It’s a place where you can laugh at butterflies that stay on noses and ponytails and palms and play along to the sights and sounds of summer, even if it’s below zero outside. •

Visit Magic Wings

An exterior view of Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Gardens. Photo: Sarah Crosby

Open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 281 Greenfield Road, South Deerfield, Mass.

413-665-2805, magicwings.com

Admission: Adults, $16; seniors (62 and older) $14, except on Wednesdays, when the price is $12.50; students (through 22 with valid student ID) $10; children, 3 to 17, $10; children younger than 3, free.

(Also, check with your local library. Many libraries have passes you can check out for free or reduced admission to Magic Wings.)

*Note strollers are not allowed in the conservatory or gift shop areas.

NatalieWise has a masters degree in poetry from Dartmouth and is the author of four books. When she isn’t writing, she is likely baking or spending time exploring this beautiful area with her husband and their chocolate lab.

More from Natalie

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Vermont Country has a hyperlocal focus on the Green Mountain lifestyle, its personalities, events, attractions and culture. The magazine appears six times a year, designed to complement the state and four-season living. VtCo magazine is a Southern Vermont publication of Vermont News & Media.

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