Have you ever wished you could be the butterfly you see?
If you’ve ever wondered how columns like this become words on a screen (or a page in the magazine), here’s how it works:
From about 70,000 thoughts each of us has on average each day, grab one. This is not easy. Most of the time, it gets away, or has some flaw. And, of course, there are ideas whose time has not come. You know when you read them again.
As you realize the days are a bit longer, you may wonder if Daylight Savings Time is worth the agony each morning for an hour of daylight in what amounts to a mind game we play each evening, and conclude that it is likely someone has exhausted this topic.
When you have considered perhaps a dozen such such notions, when you have just about given up, the tiniest seed of an idea lands neatly on the end of your nose and you look at it cross-eyed, hoping that your reading glasses will focus before you lose it to a sneeze.
Opening a vein, you bleed a few lines until finally, you have 183 words you are hoping will eventually make enough sense so that someone else will read them. It is not looking hopeful.
But then you double down, betting you and some mighty nice software can turn this train wreck into something decent and good, at about 1,000 words. But at 233 words, the cup is merely a thimbleful: thin, murky and without taste. By now, even in bluejeans and your favorite sweater, you begin to feel cold chills and itchy whiskers that transform you into Mr. Crankypants, annoying to your family and friends.
That familiar guttural voice of inspiration haunts and tempts you with one-liners and questions for which there is no response, rather like a dentist might ask with four hands in your mouth. Why couldn’t my muse have been Peggy Lee, "Is That All There Is?" instead of Spike "Chloe" (Where are you, you old bat?)? Wandering around, you read a V8 juice label for its fiber content; then you ponder what mindless scribe thought using the word "sequestration" would inspire Congress to act (see Wild Things, page 54). If I could just be content to fill this space with something that might only be read posthumously at a garage sale as someone finally offers all the collected back issues of GREENE Magazine dating back to the last days of print publications.
"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."
Moving to the "outer office," a fleet of maple seed whirligig drones look for fertile soil. By now, even my muse hints that Mom liked him best. I point out she surely doesn’t know he exists. But then, on word 448 if you are still counting, one thought collides with another and another.
Why not write metaphorically on the chrysalis of a Monarch butterfly, unfurling its fragile cocooned wings in the warm spring breeze that will be vulnerable until they stiffen. Do I dare write of gossamer wings, that finely spun cliche that glistens on misty fall mornings, even though gossamer is cob webs that collected in autumn? For 27 words, I will describe the courage of lepidoptera.
For a north-flying Monarch butterfly at least, life is brief; the first leg on a relay race whose purpose is to leave behind eggs on milkweed, there to hatch and continue the journey all the way to Canada, and then for just one to return in the last leg of a race repeated for a thousand years. Which raises questions: (1) If it’s not blooming, or clearly labeled, how to they know? (2), what’s with being such picky eaters? (3) How do the later eggs know to head south instead of north?
For absolutely no better reason than to count words (631) you may recall that mosquitos seldom fly more than 50 feet from where they hatched, spending their lives in a search for fresh blood, which it is unlikely unless some prey such as the back of your knee (attracted by perspiration on the back of your knee on a muggy day that becomes inspiration to a relieve that buzzing desperation. Ah, don’t you love alliteration (and 697 words)?
Now the entire essay has evolved into a theological question: Why does the world not mourn one less mosquito, flea, fly, tick, or bed bug? Even flies lay eggs on rotting flesh that turn into maggots, propelling the inevitable the cycle of nature. But of mosquitos, nothing good can be said. Fleas, nada. Bed bugs and ticks, nothing at all comes to mind.
But here’s the notion that has me most baffled. A butterfly cannot see itself. Thus, it cannot appreciate its own beauty, and when it searches for a mate, how is it to recognize butterflies at all, let alone one from several thousand varieties? And the potential mate must surely be having the exact same problem.
"Is is you? Are you my mate?" And moreover, after the egg is laid, each partner flies away to leave the next generation with precisely the same challenge. And somehow, they make it work. So the butterfly, which is beautiful you must admit, does not seem to exist merely for its own enjoyment. Its beauty is for its own sake, or ours.
You may say, "so what?" But if you have even considered what separates humanity from the rest of nature, so far as I know, if any other species has this gift of appreciation for what could be, it has not stepped forward.
Surely the beautiful butterfly does not. It merely is.
Flowers have a scent to share, but no mind to ask: "Could I somehow be a better bloom?" Male honey bees spread pollen from one plant to another, and when finished, they simply die without asking, "What now?"
And, without the worker bee and the drone alike, there would likely be nothing in nature: No bees? No buds. No trees. No shade. No gardens. No flowering meadow after a rain. No memories.
What is the hardest question we ask. Is it why are we here? And the best answer I know of is to share laughter with with one another; or perhaps a thought, such as that we have just seen something in Nature so wonderful as a butterfly. But then, like the butterfly, do we see ourselves as others do? It now has taken 1,062 words to get around to the notion that there is something for which you should likely offer a word of thanks to someone else. For me, this time is now. I am 102 words too long. Close enough.
George Freeman is editor of GREENE Magazine, and a Master Gardener. Reach him at Editor@Ozarks Living.com. He also posts a few words and photos on GREENE’s Facebook page.