Tag Archives: butterflies

Do Not Crush the Butterfly…

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Art on the bedroom wall, with Christmas lights being used as a night light.

Talking to a school administrator the other day about the challenges my children and I have been facing in the last year, I had one of those experiences where you get a look at your own life through someone else’s eyes.  “Wow, you have really been on a difficult journey,” he said.  I just nodded in response.  Financial difficulties, health problems, dealing with depression… life has been tough.  But you get through things like that by being centered.  Meditation tricks.  Things you can do to smooth out the wrinkles and keep moving forward.

I always return in the theater of my mind to a moment in childhood where I learned a critical lesson.  My life has been one of learning how to build rather than destroy.  It has been about creating, not criticizing.

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Electric lights have come to Toonerville, helping to light the darkness.

When I was a boy, I was a serious butterfly hunter.  It started when Uncle Don gave me a dead cecropia moth that he had found in the Rowan grain elevator.  It was big and beautiful and perfectly preserved.  Shortly thereafter, I located another cecropia in the garage behind the house, a building that had once been a wagon shed complete with horse stalls and a hay loft.  I tried to catch it with my bare hands. And by the time I had hold of it, the powder on its wings was mostly gone.  The wings were broken in a couple of places, and the poor bug was ruined in terms of starting a butterfly collection.

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A cecropia moth

Undeterred by tragedy, I got books about butterfly collecting at the Rowan Public Library and began teaching myself how to bug hunt.  I learned where to find them, and how to net them, and how to kill and mount them.

I discovered that my grandfather’s horse pasture had thistle patches which were natural feeding grounds for red admiral butterflies (pictured top left)  and painted lady butterflies (top right).  But if you wanted to catch the rarer mourning cloak butterfly (bottom picture), you had to stake out apple trees, particularly at apple blossom time, though I caught one on the ripening apples too.

swallowtailBut my greatest challenge as a butterfly hunter was the tiger swallowtail butterfly.  They are rare.  They are tricky.  And one summer I dueled with one, trying with all my might to catch him.  He was in my own back yard the first time I saw him.  I ran to get the butterfly net, and by the time I got back, he was flitting high in the trees out of reach.  I must’ve watched him for half an hour before I finally lost sight of him.  About five other times I had encounters with him in the yard or in the neighborhood.  I learned the hard way that some butterflies are acrobatic flyers and can actually maneuver to avoid being caught.  He frustrated me.

The tiger swallowtail was the butterfly that completed my collection, and it was finished when one of my cousins caught one and gave it to me because she knew I collected them.

But then, one day, while I was sitting on a blanket under a maple tree in the back yard with my notebooks open, writing something that I no longer even recall what I wrote, the backyard tiger swallowtail visited me again.  In fact, he landed on the back of my hand.  I dropped the pencil I was writing with, and slowly, carefully, I turned my hand over underneath him so that he was sitting on my palm.

I could’ve easily closed my hand upon him and captured him.  But I learned the lesson long before from the cecropia that catching a butterfly by hand would destroy its delicate beauty.  I would knock all the yellow and black powder off his exquisite wings.  I could not catch him.  But I could close my hand and crush him.  I would be victorious after a summer-long losing battle.

But that moment brought an end to my butterfly hunting.  I let him flutter away with the August breeze.  I did not crush the butterfly.  It was then that I realized what beauty there was in the world, and how fragile that beauty could be.  I could not keep it alive forever.  But it lasted a little big longer because I chose to let it.

So, here is the lesson that keeps me whole.  Even though I had the power, I did not crush the butterfly.

 

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Butterflies and Blossoms

A Red Admiral butterfly...

A Red Admiral butterfly…

I am temporarily at home in Iowa, visiting the farm where my grandparents and great grandparents have owned the land and raised crops for over 100 years.  My parents live there now in retirement, and while somebody else tends the corn and rents the land, they maintain the yard and grow flowers.  Retirement is hip deep everywhere around the place.  My old retired self and my wife and my kids are all descended upon them just like the butterfly who came to sample the purple flowers on the porch trellis.  Little work gets done.  My wife and eldest son have jobs and contribute to society still, but we retired folks putter and stutter and watch the butterflies flutter.  We watch the kids and the flowers grow.

The Family Farm House

The Family Farm House

Watching stuff grow has always pretty much been what farming-family Iowegians do.  Corn and soybeans, watermelon, pumpkins. cucumbers, string beans, sweet corn, pop corn, strawberries, potatoes… at one point or another I have helped to plant, tend, harvest, and eat all of those things… well, not seed corn and field soybeans… you can’t directly eat those… but you know what I am talking about, making things grow to feed myself and my family.  There is satisfaction in working the land and making things grow… a fundamental feeling of achievement that helps us feel like we are not mere parasites, consuming and wasting and decimating… we build for the future rather than take maximum profit at the present moment.  Farmers are the good guys.

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Only, not so much any more.   For our family farm, with three grandsons (of which I am one) available to do it, none of us have become farmers.  The next generation after us includes no farmers either.  So that fundamental feeling of achievement is basically a memory now.  Only a memory and nothing more.  Feeding the world has become somebody else’s problem now.  We are watching the flowers grow.

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Is there value in old farmers watching the flowers grow?  Of course there is!  The land is still functioning farm land.  Iowa is still the breadbasket of America.  We still feed the world.  And we who own the land are at least providing the flowers and the nectar necessary to feed butterflies.  The beauty, as well as the meaning and the metaphor, is there for anyone who wants to see it.

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Still Sticking Butterflies on Stuff

I can’t help it.  This makes an entirely cheap and easy post… and I really like the result.

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And the neatest thing about these photo-Paffoonies is that I don’t have to give a picture credit.  I took these photos myself.  Jes’ me and my little ol’ Nikon.

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The Butterfly

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was but a child, a butterfly landed on my hand.  I wanted to capture it.  But I knew, if I closed my hand fast enough to snatch it out of the air as it tried to escape, I would utterly smash it.  The important thing, the most important thing still until this very day, is that I let it fly away.  I did not crush the butterfly.

(Not exactly a poem, but not prose either…)

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