April 21, 2012
PHOENIX, Ariz. – Poets describe butterflies as flying flowers, or elusive happiness on wings that might find you if you hit your pause button.
I paused the other day. I made time to visit the Marshall Butterfly Pavilion at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Through May 13, hundreds of colorful butterflies each day will surround pavilion visitors. Garden workers and volunteers, protective of the winged splashes of color, stand at the pavilion’s entrance and exit. They open the doors cautiously and ask visitors to help prevent a butterfly’s escape.
Once inside the door, and then the plastic curtain, thoughts of my world faded into the shadows. These fragile creatures with life spans of a few weeks to several months captured my attention. The spring temperature approached 90 degrees, so the butterflies were very active. A great photo opportunity here, especially while they rested or fed on colorful flowers or slices of oranges in feeders.
I focused my camera on what appeared to be a Julia butterfly, or Dryas iulia, resting on a flower near the center of a bush. When a Zebra Longwing, or Heliconius charitonius, butterfly approached, the Julia appeared to take on a protective or territorial posture, as if to warn the approaching butterfly to stay away.
A Julia butterfly, or Dryas iulia, shown resting on a flower in the Marshall Butterfly Pavilion in Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett
Visitors are encouraged to watch where they step while walking the pavilion. Butterflies occasionally will land on the soil. One butterfly landed on my shirt. I think it was a Buckeye, or Junonia coenia. I nudged the creature of happiness gently, and it climbed onto my right hand. I carried it on my finger to the branch of a nearby bush, and the friendly butterfly stepped off my finger.
Seconds after the previous photo was captured, the resting Julia butterfly stretches into a protective posture at the approach of a Zebra Longwing butterfly, or Heliconius charitonius. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett
I’m as distracted today by butterflies as when I was a young boy. I would stop whatever I was doing – such as riding my horse to move cattle from one pasture to another – to watch a fragile butterfly flitter by. Often, my horse would watch the tiny spot of color flying, in zigzag fashion, across our path.
A Buckeye butterfly, or Junonia coenia, shown feeding or resting on a flower. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett
Once, while walking with a girlfriend in junior high school, I reached out to two butterflies circling each other in our path. I caught them with one hand. She was surprised. (So was I. Wow.) I opened my cupped hands to show them to her before letting them fly away.
Next spring, I hope to have many more butterflies as guests. At my Best Friend’s suggestion, I sprinkled desert milkweed seeds around our home. Maybe, if the seeds sprout, wandering butterflies will lay their eggs on the milkweed. The eggs will hatch into caterpillars, which will molt a few times before entering the pupa or chrysalis stage. Under the right conditions, the pupa eventually transition into butterflies, which mature and lay more eggs.
A Gulf Fritillary butterfly, or Agraulis vanillae. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett
Mentions of butterflies are found throughout literature. French poet Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun wrote: “The butterfly is a flying flower, the flower a tethered butterfly.”
Equally appropriate are the words of American novelist and short story writer Nathaniel Hawthorne: “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
One of the most powerful references hinting at butterflies is attributed to Helen Keller, considered one of the 20th Century’s leading humanitarians. She said, “One can never consent to creep, when one feels an impulse to soar.”
The cycle continues. To enjoy, all one has to do is pause.
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