Jun 262011

Some peo­ple adopt cats, dogs, even snakes or fer­rets. I adopt a but­ter­fly.

It begins late after­noon, a gor­geous Indi­an Sum­mer day in Nor­man, Okla­homa. The sun gets in my eyes. As I turn to step down heav­i­ly from the curb, I glimpse a dis­con­cert­ing splotch of col­or: a liv­ing Monarch but­ter­fly, wings slow­ly flex­ing, sit­ting upon an oil stain.

Kind soul that I am, I bend to free it from the tar pit, but com­ing clos­er I rec­og­nize the degree of his plight. “Oh, no won­der.” A break in the lead­ing edge its left forewing leaves it shred­ding and use­less for flight. “He’s not going any­where.”

I want to move it to a safer place, away from crush­ing wheels or heels, but as I look around, I see no place suit­able to place him. He puts up lit­tle resis­tance as I care­ful­ly scoop him up onto my index fin­ger. I imag­ine he was hit by a car and flung by the force of wind to this very spot. Legs col­lapsed on his left side, both anten­nae gone, I’m think­ing, “this is one ******-up but­ter­fly!

It is get­ting late, and now with this odd­ly fas­ci­nat­ing crea­ture cling­ing tight­ly to my fin­ger, I have no choice but to take him home with me. But­ter­fly and I take the wheel and togeth­er we dri­ve to my abode.

Upon arrival, I gen­tly pry him loose onto a few col­or­ful blos­soms out­side my front door. He seems unim­pressed, but I leave him to his own devices so that I can go online and ask Dr. Google about but­ter­fly repair. I am over­joyed to dis­cov­er the web­site www.livemonarch.com, which has a com­plete step by step video of repair­ing a Monarch butterfly’s wing. I am total­ly stoked!

I set myself to the task of repair­ing his wing, in hopes he will regain flight like the but­ter­flies in the video. The web­site says, “Restrain the patient: no flut­ter­ing!” They show how, con­trary to pop­u­lar wis­dom, grab­bing a but­ter­fly by its fold­ed wings will not impede their capac­i­ty for flight, and so I become much more com­fort­able in my han­dling of him.

The pro­ce­dure is fair­ly straight­for­ward: glue a tiny card­board patch over the dam­aged area of wing. I con­cur with the web­site about the rel­a­tive strength of those wing mus­cles! The lit­tle beast­ie is quite strong, and I take care not to harm him, using a wire coat-hang­er bent into a loop slight­ly larg­er than his body-core to pin him down.

The break is a sim­ple frac­ture, so I sim­ply line up the parts of the wing, care­ful­ly press the patch down, and give it time to set. Once dry, the patch allows him to flap with­out con­tin­u­ing to shred the wing.

Post-surgery, I place him in a small, emp­ty fish-tank lined with a green tow­el and placed with rocks and crys­tals, a bowl of water and his favorite foods inside with him. Then, I put the whole thing in the win­dow so he can see the sky, though I must cov­er it to pre­vent my fero­cious feline Kokopel­li from gain­ing access.

As he recov­ers, I notice what might best be termed a unique and expan­sive spir­it. One night I keep him with me on my fin­ger as Dara and I sit togeth­er watch­ing TV. At first, she thought I was sim­ply obsess­ing over some lit­tle insect, but as we all spend sev­er­al hours togeth­er, she begins to appre­ci­ate the pres­ence and per­son­al­i­ty of this winged crea­ture. I chris­ten him Mau­rice, to befit his diminu­tive grandeur.

The dif­fer­ences between us are vast, and so I must adjust my pres­ence of mind and cal­i­brate my strength to new lev­els of sen­si­tiv­i­ty. So del­i­cate and beau­ti­ful, I can­not get enough of look­ing at and being with this amaz­ing­ly lux­u­ri­ous liv­ing fash­ion state­ment.

He has got­ten used to me now, more-or-less sur­ren­der­ing to my insis­tent min­is­ter­ing. The first time I try to feed him, I hold a gigan­tic spoon up to his tiny face, ply­ing him like a stub­born child. Final­ly, he unfurls his curly pro­boscis, and begins to explore my offer­ing. Sur­prise! He likes it. I love watch­ing him eat, though I feel a like a drug push­er intro­duc­ing him to the pow­er­ful sweet­ness of cane sug­ar and water­mel­on. I hold the spoon for my lit­tle friend until he is sati­at­ed. After our feed­ing ses­sions, he tends to becomes quite frisky!

But­ter­flies have no mouth, nor teeth, nor jaw with which to bite. But­ter­flies are utter­ly inca­pable of inflict­ing injury. They are ahim­sa, harm­less crea­tures, per­fect veg­e­tar­i­ans, con­sum­ing only the purest liq­uid in the form of flower nec­tar.

I take him out­side and hold him above me. “Fly free lit­tle one, if you can.” But though my clum­sy wing repair is rel­a­tive­ly suc­cess­ful, he nev­er again takes to the skies. He only clings to my fin­ger with his sig­na­ture tilt­ed stance. I sense that he some­how real­izes he will not be rejoin­ing the Great Migra­tion. Like a proud war vet­er­an shipped home, lost to pur­pose and ruined in body, this indomitable spir­it is crest­fall­en.

Mau­rice sur­vived the shock and trau­ma of a severe impact, but his injuries go deep­er than the vis­i­ble. With­out anten­nae, he is func­tion­al­ly blind with regard to flight. Bereft of these amaz­ing­ly sen­si­tive organs, but­ter­flies become dis­ori­ent­ed and lose their sense of direc­tion.

By the fifth day, he is get­ting weak­er, refus­ing all food, sig­nal­ing imma­nent release from his mag­nif­i­cent though dam­aged form. I place him before me as I work on my com­put­er, so I can be with him to the end. His breath slows, and his wings, which until now he has kept care­ful­ly fold­ed up behind, begin to relax, grad­u­al­ly drop­ping down in open, sym­met­ri­cal dis­play, like a broad cape laid low across a per­for­mance stage floor.

My mind slows to keep pace with the speed of flesh. A dying butterfly’s slow­ing pulse com­mits mute tes­ti­mo­ny to the com­pelling force of our com­mon agree­ment: to stay but for a time with­in these shells of mat­ter. There are no hid­ing places, no avoid­ing this. Only under­stand­ing may be borne from the depths of suf­fer­ing.

At a point which pre­cise­ly I do not mark, the spir­it of Mau­rice peace­ful­ly departs his mor­tal frame. An essen­tial ele­ment is gone, and while still beau­ti­ful, the aban­doned form of the Monarch But­ter­fly once known as Mau­rice now lies in state: emp­ty, dry and still.

As noth­ing is tru­ly ran­dom or wast­ed in this uni­verse, I won­der at a larg­er pur­pose served by such peace­ful close encoun­ters between alien crea­tures. “Poi­so­nous if eat­en,” the web­sites say. Mon­archs are not an ele­ment of our food chain mer­it­ing atten­tion. Human love of the gor­geous­ly pro­por­tioned sym­me­tries of the but­ter­fly rep­re­sents no par­tic­u­lar evo­lu­tion­ary advan­tage for us. There seems no ben­e­fit to this attrac­tion, and I can scarce­ly imag­ine what lit­tle use we offer them. So why the attrac­tion?

I will not pre­sume to speak for the but­ter­fly. But there is cer­tain­ly some­thing in the innate­ly Human capac­i­ty to appre­ci­ate beau­ty and sym­me­try in nature … some­thing where­in our own deep­er being is touched and awak­ened. It is through our rela­tion­ship with all things great and small that we find our own reflec­tion, in part and in whole. The move­ment-response with­in the heart is that of our own spir­it grow­ing and evolv­ing;

And this may be the only real pur­pose of life, after all.

Per­haps we are all mag­nif­i­cent, yet lack frame of ref­er­ence from which to appre­ci­ate the fact. Per­haps, from the per­spec­tive of a high­er-ordered con­scious­ness, humans are beau­ti­ful in ways we sim­ply have not the abil­i­ty to per­ceive.

I imag­ine Mon­archs regard them­selves as quite ordi­nary. How­ev­er, I believe Mau­rice knew just how won­der­ful he was. My time with this liv­ing being has reshaped my self-aware­ness to dis­tinc­tive dimen­sions, a new and unique view of the world — a Uni­verse com­mu­nique — trans­mis­sion through the form of a lone­ly, injured Monarch.

This post is derived from an essay sub­mit­ted for pub­li­ca­tion in Absolute 11 — Poet­ry, Fic­tion Non­fic­tion, Art­work, Pho­tog­ra­phy — a pub­li­ca­tion of the Arts and Human­i­ties Divi­sion of Okla­homa City Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege. While the  arti­cle itself was not select­ed, the adja­cent pho­to­graph by the author appears as both a fea­tured image and is also used as the sec­tion divider in the 2011 issue. My thanks to Prof. M. McCauley for all of her inspi­ra­tion!

Creative Commons License
Soul of a But­ter­fly by Richard S. Auer is licensed under a Cre­ative Com­mons Attri­bu­tion-Non­Com­mer­cial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unport­ed License.
Based on a work at www.gaia9.com.

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