Some children are brought up playing Monopoly and chess. They learn to strategise and monopolise.

Others gamble. They play Crown and Anchor, they play dice. They play games of chance and that’s just how they live their lives.

The proverb is his own, but when asked, Ras Mykkal refuses to fit in a box.

This outlook, he said, is what drew him to the butterfly, a subject he finds “fascinating”.

The former sports photographer and poet teamed up with graphic designer Stephan Johnstone to produce his second book: Bermuda’s Flying Flowers: The Seven Resident Butterflies of Bermuda, now available at bookstores.

Dedicated to his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Dillworth, who turned 97 on March 28, the picture book documents the full history and life cycle of the island’s butterflies, from egg to adult. He hopes it will be a learning tool for anyone who is interested in nature and the environment.

The 55-year-old photographer said it took him the better part of ten years to complete the book from the time he began tracking the insects.

Growing host plants in his own garden, he observed the females laying eggs and if he found a caterpillar, he would raise them and photograph and document their behaviours.

“Because of Bermuda’s location, you have some butterflies that are migratory,” he explained. “As fall and winter come in, they head south. Some get thrown off course, but some are fortunate enough to make it to Bermuda.”

However, they must find their host plant to survive and, even then, survival is not guaranteed. A female butterfly can lay between 200 and 500 eggs in her life cycle, but only three will make it through the four stages to become a butterfly because of predators.

He said a butterfly would live an average of two weeks as an adult. While some species live only a day or two, others are capable of living around nine months.

His photography career began as a public relations officer for the Bermuda Autocycle Union. A young Mr Mykkal raced motorbikes at Coney Island and the group needed somebody to report the results to this newspaper.

When members started complaining that there were never any pictures in the newspaper, he bought an Olympus IS-10 — “little more than a point and shoot”.

“I had no idea what I was doing. I was just taking pictures. I had no knowledge of photography but I was trying to help this sport. “I started asking more people such as David Skinner, Dexter Flood and Tamel Simons for feedback. They’d give me pointers.”

He became a certified professional photographer in September, 1997 after completing a course at the New York Institute of Photography. He freelanced for the Bermuda Sun and The Royal Gazette, branching out from motocross to covering all sports.

“I gave a lot of publicity to what I would call out-of-the-mainstream sports,” he said. “Harness Racing on Vesey Street, horse jumping, youth football, first division football.

“I started covering all these events that didn’t normally get any media coverage.”

He has spoken up in the past, criticising the lack of money put into youth in sport on the island.

“I’m a very big proponent. We have that talent here but we don’t have the facility to develop it. You would never get Usain Bolt out of Bermuda because we kill those things before they get a chance to mature.

“Every now and then, a Nahki Wells slips through the cracks or a Shaun Goater, but we will never put together a national football team because we only have two great players.

“We don’t have that farming system that grooms them from primary school into the league system into the professional system so that we’ve got 30 players that we can choose from. We’ve always got that one phenomenal player.”

After suffering a hard drive crash and losing his valuable photographs, he realised he had to find a secure way of preserving memories.

“I was trying to find ways to preserve history — what do I do with this so I don’t lose it again? That’s when I thought I should start doing books, recording history, document people, their events and their achievements,” he said.

His first book, Click … I Got Yah!, was a compilation of some of the island’s greatest athletes and sporting moments.

“We have more history in the graveyard than we do in the library,” he said. “Bermuda has so much unrecorded history. Every time someone passes away they take that information with them. I think for the next generation it’s important that history is recorded because if we don’t learn from the past then the past will always be present.”

He cites the early building blocks of Lego as an example of how we’re failing children here.

“It’s the foundation of construction — how to build things — and we fail to teach children to make the link between education and career.

“What Bermuda embraces is, go, get educated and I’ll give you a job so you can make my dreams come true.

“Education is supposed to provide you with knowledge, but we’ve made education about obedience. Follow this script and I’ll give you a job — you don’t need to know.

“One of my favourite quotes is by Albert Einstein: ‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.’

“That is so true of Bermuda. What I found fascinating about butterflies is you have this crawling creature that goes through metamorphosis — complete change — into something else that flies. As a caterpillar it eats with mandibles, jaws; as a butterfly it drinks through a straw. As a caterpillar its heart runs the length of its back, but when it goes into that chrysalis, all of its internal organs break down into a soup and reorganises into something completely different.

“It never went to school but it knows to eat its way out.”

Royal Gazette
Written by Nadia Hall