Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A butterfly tale

Tawny emperor female (Asterocampa clyton)

This is a story about a butterfly that came and stayed while. I spotted it perched on the bottom concrete step of our back patio last Saturday. Its open wings were battered and misshapen. I took my time getting a photo but finally did. Wonder what species it is..... But I never got around to checking.

Earlier that day, I'd washed my bed pillows in the tub and set them on a little wrought-iron table on the patio to start the drying process. Later, I saw that the butterfly had fluttered over to a pillow and was sunning there. That evening, we'd planned to go to a barn dance and potluck hosted by Pamela and Frank Arnosky. Before we left, I went outside to bring in my pillows, but the butterfly was still sitting on one. Okay, I'll just leave the pillows outside until we get home. No big deal...

Which I did. After we got home close to 9 o'clock, I stepped outside to fetch my pillows. In the dark, I could see the little butterfly, still perched on a pillow! What was a girl to do?

Well, bring in the pillows AND the butterfly, of course, and set everyone in the tub for the night! Which I did. Then I turned out the light and shut the door. "Good night, butterfly," I whispered.

The next morning, I found the butterfly, resting on the lacy window curtain near the tub. So it could fly? Okay, then I'll try and release it...

Which I did. I carried it gently to my office, opened the window and set it on the brick windowsill. It sat there for quite some time. But it seemingly didn't want to leave. So I finally relented, opened the window and brought my friend back inside.

I set it on a potted plant and then, still not knowing the species, I...

...attempted to feed it hummingbird nectar (sugar water) with a Q-tip. I think it drank some.  All day Sunday, the butterfly stayed on the plant in my office. 

Then early early Monday morning, we left for the day to see a dear, precious friend in Longview and kiss her good by before she passed. Mrs. Adams has been my adopted mother since 1988, and I love her so much. So does James, my two children and my former husband. That night, James and I returned from the hospital, tired but so glad we went. Right away, I had to go check. In my office, I switched on the light and looked. Is my butterfly friend dead? No! There it was, still roosting on the plant!

This morning, I found the butterfly clinging to the curtain that's behind my potted plants. 

Maybe it's ready to leave this time. So once again, I carried the butterfly outside, prepared to release it for the final time. Because I still hadn't stopped to find out the species, I tried setting it on some lantana blossoms and then blue mistflower. Nope, it wasn't interested.

Okay, then we'll go back inside, I decided, breaking off a mistflower to take with us. Maybe it'd nectar later?

No, it didn't. Because––I finally determined the species––tawny emperors (Asterocampa clyton) feed on rotting fruit, dung, carrion and tree sap. Hmmm, what about diluted molasses then? So I made a little mixture and offered it some on a saturated Q-tip. Maybe it sipped some, more likely it didn't. But I tried.

I also took some photos of its wings, which appeared to me not to have unfurled completely. I thought that was why it couldn't fly well.

This story does have an ending. While working at my desk later in the afternoon, I heard a fluttering sound. Cautiously, I turned (I didn't want to step on it) and looked around. There on a wall above James' rolltop desk, I spotted my butterfly. Apparently, it could fly. So yet again, I cupped it in my hand, carried it outside and set it on one of my pillows, which I'd again set outside to dry. 

"Can you keep an eye on it?" I asked James, who was working at the dining room table and could see outside. Sure, he said.

But moments later, when I glanced outside, the butterfly was GONE. I searched the grass and ground around the patio but could find no sign of it. I also peered at some other tawny emperiors that were playing chase among the live oak branches. No, their wings were perfect. My friend was nowhere to be seen.

If there's a point to this story or a lesson to be learned, I haven't figured it out yet. But as I cared for the butterfly and carried it inside and out, I thought of Mrs. Adams, who loved everyone and everything that crossed her path. Her kind heart, gracious spirit and wonderful sense of humor touched my life so deeply. She loved me like a daughter, and, indeed, she truly was my adopted mother. 

Not long after lunch today, Mrs. Adams' daughter, Sharmen, notified me that her mother had passed a half hour or so before noon. I don't know what became of my butterfly friend, but I'm absolutely certain where Mrs. Adams went. So is her family. When God released our sweet, precious Mrs. Adams, she flew joyously to heaven, where we'll all be reunited again some glorious day. 

And who knows? Maybe I'll see my butterfly there, too. 
After all, nothing's impossible with God. Nothing!

Mrs. Adams and me, January 2011

Death is not extinguishing the light; rather it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.
Old saying handwritten by Mrs. Adams' son, Sam, and taped to a shelf in her hospital room. 

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