Monday, August 25, 2008

Butterfly Love

Really, ever since I went to the Butterfly Pavillion so many years ago, I have been in love with the idea of growing up some butterflies. Now I have done it and it has been one of the most wonderous experiences of my life. I think I will either do it again next summer, or perhaps make a trip back to the Butterfly Pavillion an annual event to honor the memory of Julia and her tiny spirit that was barely with us for even a moment.

Posted by Picasa

A Flock of Monarchs

Beginning the day *after* the memorial, we had our hands full with butterflies. I have no idea, of course, why the emergence happened almost two weeks later than the Butterfly Professionals had indicated would be the time-range for the big event. Well, actually I do know why. Because Nature is like that. Things just happen and there are so many variables and we have no real control, blah blah blah.... but sometimes the randomness of Life and Nature cause your spirits to lift like a butterfly trying its wings for the first time. In the week or so after Julia's memorial day, I for one had a sort of letdown response. The day that we had planned and worked for since practically the day of her birth and death, had now come and gone. Thankfully I still had a collection of friends and relatives to keep busy with, along with enough time to do art as therapy, and things to keep me busy. But I can honestly say that having the butterflies to take care of, and being able to watch several new ones emerging each day, and to hold them on my hand and watch them fly, was so uplifting to me that it really helped temper the feeling of finality.
Butterflies are so special and fleeting and rare are the times that I have ever been able to get very close to one and watch it quietly sitting in the sun. Having the experience of 30 or so butterflies gracing me with their presence, in groups of 5 or so at a time, and being able to hold them to my hearts content and see them fly off at their leisure, really did bring peace to me over a period of time that I especially needed it.

Posted by Picasa

And then....

And then about an hour before the memorial service was to start, and after we had already gone to the party store to buy a large bunch of helium balloons to release instead of Butterflies, Julia's big sister screamed in that earsplitting way that only a nine year old girl can do, and we all came frantically running, fearing that something terrible had happened, and instead there was a butterfly.
(this is not that actual first butterfly, as you can see, because we didn't have the presence of mind to grab a camera, but this is a good example of the newly born butterfly with its wings not completely unfurled yet)

They hang upside down and rest for a while after they come out. They gently flap their wings. And when the memorial service happened, we released our balloons and then we had one perfect butterfly to release as well.

Posted by Picasa

What's Happening?!

The cocoons were beautiful from every angle.
Soon we had dozens of them. Not a single one was formed while we were watching, although we had a house full of people who were constantly checking on them. They are modest little creatures I think, and deserve some level of privacy.

And then one day we saw that one of them had turned completely black. The directions we had didn't really mention this. My heart turned to stone because I thought that if they were dying, I wouldn't be able to handle the feelings of sadness, loss, and failure. So I got all philosophical and talked about nature and the unknown number of butterfly diseases and how no one is ever in control of anything.
But if you look very very closely, you can actually see the butterfly wings right through the cocoon.

On the day of the memorial we had lots of these. But no butterflies. It was like being two weeks overdue for your baby to be born. To keep things in perspective I just repeatedly put my heart into surrender mode, and let my brain talk to me about the relative size of a potential loss, as compared to an actual loss that has already happened and that we all have proven we could survive. In essence, I built a cocoon around my heart, to protect the fragile thing.

Posted by Picasa

Very Hungry!

It's true what the book says - they eat, and eat, and eat, and eat, and eat.......
And then, right on schedule according to the directions, they assumed the "J" position.

And then as soon as no one was around to see them, they would construct a nice cozy bed for themselves. The white spider-web like design you see here on the glass is actually the dew-covered trail made by the caterpiller.

We were stunned to see the "ring of gold" that formed. Since this was a project that I was primarily responsible for (because if it was unsuccesful, I wanted that to be my burden alone), many people would ask me what the gold is. I have no idea, and while I have a certain level of scientific curiosity to know just what this substance is and why it would form, I easily let that go in favor of thinking of it as A Magic Miracle, and was content with just marvelling at its breathtaking beauty.

Posted by Picasa

The Butterfly Project

Early on in the planning stage for Julia's memorial service, I knew that I wanted for there to be a live butterfly release. I've learned that butterflies are a common image used to represent people who have passed away, and babies and children in particular. Their delicate beauty reminds us simultaneously of both the breathtaking miracle and very fragile nature of new life. Some years ago I visited a "butterfly pavillion" which is basically a huge greenhouse where hundreds of butterflies live their natural life cycle and freely fly about, landing on you as you admire the flowers. After doing some research I determined that I was ready to purchase monarch caterpillars, caring for them throughout their cycle of pupating and emerging in time to be released into nature as part of our remembrance ceremony for Julia. I carefully consulted with the company that I purchased the caterpillars from, to ensure that the approximate timing of the emergence would be roughly a week or more before the memorial date.A large glass tank on our porch became out butterfly nursery. Branches of milkweed in bottles of water provided the food source. A length of sheer netting provided protection from possible predators, and the roof over our porch allowed a safe location and good vantage point for providing their care.
The impossibly tiny, and very hungry caterpillers....

We were off on our exciting adventure, and suddenly I was quite scared. Would I really be able to take good care of these little things?
Posted by Picasa