Part the Sixth, Wherein the Butterfly Weakens, and Demonstrates How to Live

Winter flight of female cardinals at the feeder.

In-snow flight of female cardinals at the feeder.

February 18, 2015. The butterfly this morning maneuvered back up to the windowsill; yesterday I had to clean some stuck fuzz from her hind leg. Seems like a foreleg is not working properly; when she starts to fly she flops around but apparently she can eventually navigate just fine. Last night when I turned on the wall lights in the bedroom she flew up and starting bashing against them. Today she’s head against wood under the bedroom window, following instinct toward light.

The butterfly continues to hang out motionless unless I blow gently at her to see if she is ok. Last night she flew off the bedroom sill toward the light, then down under my jewelry case, and on the floor down there. Then back up in the sun this morning, after I left the bedroom.

I worry about hurting her, the sugar-water freezing her to the sill or sticking to her as the water evaporates, so I spilled some out for her then wiped it up after an hour. Like my kids living on their own, I don’t worry so much about her. Now if I am away for a night or two, I figure she’ll just be living her lepidopteran life.

What will the end be? Will I accidentally step on her? Will she just fade away or disappear one night and not come back up to the windowsill? I can only be as careful as I can be; this morning I turned on lights to find my clogs and carefully shook out the sheets and blankets in case she was hiding below them—that’s how I found her the other morning, when she flew up and delighted me with her energy.

It could have been a short lived drama: the butterfly hatches, flies around, gets smushed, or starves or falls down and dries out. Humans, too. Or it goes on and we don’t know the ending.

I do think she is weakening, and I think that left foreleg is damaged. I hope I didn’t do anything to cause it or injure it further. You could look at us humans as we age, oh look we know where THEY are headed! Getting decrepit, limbs not working. Well, yeah. But we keep living, keep going, and I think as time goes on, don’t judge me on my infirmity, don’t figure I’m “down for the count” at any particular point.

Hell, look what all of us humans have been through, look what I’ve been through, and who knows what is to come, but I am here, now, in this moment.

Against the window the butterfly sits and rests while the winter sun glows through her wings.

Limbs buried in deep snow at a creek, Partridge Run.

Limbs buried in deep shadowed snow at a creek visited only by small critters, Partridge Run, in January.

This February’s extreme cold has been hard on us all. I’m feeling a bit stir crazy and grumpy, can’t go snowshoe or hike—wind chills below zero. Cooking inside, I get all sweaty but then when I sit down to write in the front room my legs become marble-cold in spite of three layers of long underwear, leggings, and pants.

Of course the butterfly has issues too, with a breeze from the old windows knocking her over. Just went in to check and she seems off-kilter, like a boat with all the weight on one side, threatening to keel over. But she keeps getting up, moving around, and then head first, back to the window. I want her in the warmer kitchen, but I don’t want to risk hurting her by luring her onto a piece of paper—anyway she can fly off that easily enough. She has made her decision. I know enough not to touch the delicate wings with my human hands covered in any number of skin oils, soaps, lotions, depending on the time of day.

Morning and butterflies.

Morning with sunshine and shadow, when the butterfly was in the kitchen before.

February 19 morning. She perches on the edge of the bedroom window casing, almost to the light but away from the breeze. In flight she is still delicate and precise but resting, is off-balance—like I sit on my yoga mat sometimes with a blanket under my rump, not so steady.

At first I was drawn to the very human reaction, oh no! she can’t DO what she is supposed to DO: fly outside and interact with other Dainty Sulphurs and so on.

But she looks like she is in meditation. Who’s to say what awareness is? Do they go into a suspended animation kind of thing, a decreasing of the input, to conserve energy until it might be needed? Or is she acutely aware of surroundings and constantly testing air and movement and light? Is she slowed by the chill air by the window?

She indicates by going over again and again, that by the light is where she wants to be. A lesson to me: move to where you are drawn. Sit in meditation. Stop trying to go go go.

Perhaps what you think you need to be doing, you don’t. Perhaps you need to sit in meditation, breathe, take in your surroundings. Perhaps this is all there is—well, that’s true. This existence IS all that you know and will experience, at least in this incorporation, this time around, not knowing if there are others, what existence might be after this life, not heaven or hell, but how we will experience it.

Stop being in such a hurry to get to the next part! She’s still. Why can’t you be?

Chickadee zooming in for a nibble.

Chickadee zooming in for a nibble.

I had an intense couple days of brilliant work, satisfying performance, beautiful interactions with people and nature and my artistic practices. But I didn’t take good enough or close enough care of my body, and it let me know (thank you!). I woke at 1 am, thinking it was almost dawn, tossed and turned, then headed to the yoga room, the body dissatisfied with its crunched up, stuck feel. I lit the candle inherited from a spiritual community I was part of for fifteen years, and a recently gifted oil lamp.

It was dark, dark. I was so achy. I rolled around, my shoulders and hands and feet crinkling, asking to be realigned; the fibers of muscles and connective tissue yearning to be warmed and stretched into supple dough. And so I did, just moved, turned quiet quiet yoga music on my phone to keep me company, as the street light outside my yoga window glowed yellow over snow covered cars, garbage cans and cement steps.

The butterfly seems to have found her spot, for now. I offered sugar water yesterday and she stumbled around but then just stood in it, two forelimbs. They can taste through their feet.

Perhaps she liked the idea of just having food available, and she’d drink when she wanted to. Kind of like keeping a full fridge. I decided that if in an hour she wasn’t out of it, I’d gently blow to make sure she didn’t get stuck in it. She moved on her own, to her almost-window view. I think about when I go out of town in a day or so; should I leave some sugar water like you would leave food and water for a cat?

She will do—or not—whatever she needs and wants to do. Just like my body and the yoga room that called me.

A paschal candle from my  spiritual community far away.

A paschal candle from my spiritual community far away.

Part the Fifth, Wherein I Am Surprised, and Meditate on Metamorphosis

 

Surprise! on the bedspread

Surprise! on the bedspread

February 17 2015. I can’t believe it—thought I’d lost the butterfly, that our short term friendship, for that’s all it could be, was done; but when I went into the bedroom, there she was, after two days, on my bedspread! I laughed out loud, even skipped a little, couldn’t believe it! How did she get there? Why was she there? Giddy, I got my spoon of sweet water in case she needed it.

She wasn’t quite so excited as me–or thirsty; perhaps she found other sources for nourishment in the kitchen when I wasn’t looking. I still couldn’t believe she was back. If she were on the bed in the night, I could have crushed her, but apparently she is busy taking care of herself, flying around my apartment, exploring and living her own short little life.

I want her to go back to the kitchen where it is safer but she is having none of it. Thank you very much, I prefer the rug under your bed. Like my children as infants who pressed their lips together to refuse more baby oatmeal, she knows what she needs better than I.

So she’s had a drink and her picture taken again, and I’ve left her to her own devices.

Resting on the carpet.

Resting on the carpet.

I didn’t know I’d missed her so much. Or rather, that I would be so excited to see her again. I’ve gotten to know more and more, as I’ve read about the butterfly life cycle, Dainty Sulphurs, and different families of butterflies. (Did you know that Monarchs have six legs like the other butterflies, but two of them tuck against the thorax, having lost the ability to aid in walking?) I fear showing too many photos of her to my friends and blog followers, like an obsessed parent incessantly pushing phone images of their cute child.

A friend came by, curious about the butterfly visitor and when I talked about feeding her, said, Oh I think you are not supposed to use honey; I know with hummingbirds you use white sugar. Just in case, I start mixing sugar and water….

I’m talking to a butterfly, in my bedroom.

A more external metamorphosis, of wood into nutrients.

A more external metamorphosis, of wood into nutrients, at the north end of Partridge Run.

The idea of metamorphosis now strikes me, all those grade school posters about caterpillars becoming butterflies, stories of ugly ducklings becoming swans. What being “ugly” meant to me as a child—a label I took on as a chubby kid with glasses. It still horrifies me that the duckling—actually a cygnet—was considered ugly and had to grow into some culturally defined idea of perfection, of others-judged beauty.

What if, instead, we felt perfect as we are, comfortable in our skin even as we grew into something else? That each stage, even in its clumsiness, was considered beautiful?

I was told once that in the metamorphosis of a caterpillar, its face melts. What a thought. In order to change, you will not be able to recognize yourself, because you change so very dramatically. Am I willing to take on that kind of scary change?

When I did research and found the original article, (by Ferris Jabr, at ScientificAmerican.com, August 10, 2012) I learned that it’s not just the face that melts—the whole caterpillar dissolves inside the chrysalis. Releasing enzymes, it digests itself, creates a kind of caterpillar soup, Jabr calls it, though with special organized cells called “imaginal discs” that help it reorganize to the next stage, into the butterfly with wings, antennae and mature sex organs.

What lessons for myself from this re-encounter with the Dainty Sulphur? To take time apart, build my own chrysalis for change, tuck in to look within myself, then take on the change, and emerge. Not to emerge too early. Not to do it without the structure and support I need. To know flying—whatever that means for each of us—is possible even if we can’t imagine it right now.

We have within us what we need for the next step. The taking of the next step can be messy, scary, and look disorganized, but it is exactly as it was and is supposed to be, when we move into it.

Yes (of course), to be continued.

Winter sun in the woods, waiting as things grow and change under the snow.

Winter sun in the woods, waiting as things grow and change under the snow.

 

Part the Fourth, Wherein the Butterfly Disappears Once Again, and I Think About “Otherness”

Butterfly drinking, head-on.

Butterfly drinking, head-on. Proboscis in sweet water, legs hanging on.

February 15, 2015. Last night the butterfly drank from the spoon of honey-water, then went to the window corner, and when I nudged gently to make sure her wings weren’t stuck, she flew behind the radiator and I haven’t seen her since.

I just took a flashlight and looked into all the dusty nooks and crannies of the peeled-paint housing. No sign of a body, or active cobwebs. She could have flown anywhere, then. She’s not on the wall, not between the wall and radiator, not on the floor. Just scraps of a dead ant, a binder clip that fell down there, a slip of paper, and a dried up pea from last summer’s garden (oh my).

The original peas with pasta, summer 2014.

The original peas with pasta, summer 2014.

February 16, 2015. In my kitchen, I’m talking to a butterfly who isn’t there.

The sun is bright, even though it’s mid-February. I haven’t seen my butterfly friend since the other day when she fluttered down to behind the radiator. But when I swept and (I will admit) got my flashlight out to see if she was down among the ancient dust puffs I can’t reach and I saw no sign of her, I was relieved I hadn’t accidentally set her into the path of spiders or too-hot surfaces. I invite her out: the sun really is beautifully warm this morning, come see! but I also know the wind is bitterly cold and comes through my 1920s windows. Other spaces might be more temperate for a butterfly who found herself in the wrong climate, at the wrong time.

The other night she fluttered up high to where my vases are stored over the sink; I realized the next day when I found her down on the side of the sink, resting on a half-window screen (stored there for when I over-toast my bagels and have to open windows to keep the smoke alarm quiet) that she went up high because the overhead light at night is like the sun, the sun she was seeking hard against the glass during the day. So that night I turned off the light, so she wouldn’t fight and fight and beat herself against it.

I put the overhead light on for a few hours after I lost her but she didn’t come out. I could imagine she is dead, worn out, captured by spiders; or off on an adventure I can’t see, in the corners of my kitchen. Dainty sulphurs live about a month or less I have read, and her color wasn’t the brilliant green of a just-hatched butterfly; she may have been middle aged like me when we first met. Humans are storytellers; humans look for meaning and relationship, even if it is a stretch. Particularly when it’s pleasant company.

I like being a human.

My refrigerator hums behind the tick of my battery operated bird clock and the backing-up sounds of plows and Caterpillar backhoes moving snow. As I listen, I understand we travel in and out of others’ lives, even insect and animal and strangers’ lives. I think of prisoners making friends with roaches and mice.

I have discovered in my photography that fleeting creatures, the iridescent green or bright yellow that flits by—when you study up-close, can appear grotesque, nightmarish, all maw and pincers and huge bulbous eyes. We must look odd and out of perspective to other creatures, if they perceive at all like us.

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September (paper wasp I believe) in the greenhouse at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Appearance is also how we can make those who don’t look like us “the other,” and justify killing them off.

During my time in the peace community it was hammered into us (non-violently of course, we’d joke) that our mission was to make it not Us Versus Them, but rather All of Us Together. Even if our goals and lives and cultures are different.

I think about how the traditional Jains, in their absolute belief in ahimsa (non-violence) cover their mouths with fabric so as not to harm even a microscopic bug. Though in our present incarnation, we are too big, I believe, just too large in a world of very small, to avoid crushing and inadvertently destroying. The microbes and viruses that hurt and kill us might say (if they had sentience and could communicate) that they are just too damned small to keep from harming us.

I was brought up to see both sides, to such an extent it often paralyzed me; in addition, my own needs and experience were often left out. Not a formula for a life where I could stride forward and make my mistakes and own them. (Working on it!)

Sometimes someone passes through your life and you experience each other and then the moment is gone. I have had that on a train; people hand me a piece of wisdom from their lives, we smile at each and then they are gone. Like my dainty sulphur.

To be continued.

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If I hadn’t looked out the train window at that very moment, I would have missed this adventurer, flying boldly in the fall sky.

Part the Third, Wherein the Butterfly Disappears and I Ponder Life, Death, and Survival

A different sulphur, this one either a Pink Edged or Cloudy Sulphur, observed on the slopes of Gore Mountain NY Ski Area, in the fall.

A different sulphur, this one either a Pink Edged or Clouded Sulphur, observed on the slopes of Gore Mountain NY Ski Area, in the fall.

February 13, 2015 morning. Yesterday, after I looked up all the photographs of butterflies I’d taken in the last couple years–I had no idea I had so many!– I took more pictures of the Dainty Sulphur at the window, from different angles, and in the afternoon she moved down next to the air conditioner. By evening she was hanging at the floor trim. This morning—gone! can’t see the butterfly high or low. She might have been eaten by a spider.

There’s part of the situation where I don’t have responsibility—how far do you really chase a butterfly? It follows its instinct.

Even though one of my own instincts is a tendency to care-take (“Hey, I’ve got food here, places you can rest, even!”), I have to let the butterfly go where she will. In the same way I learned to let my teenaged children venture out into the world, and then release them completely (well, almost). I needed to let them go, for my own sake and theirs.

This butterfly, like my own children, like humans, has its schedule of daily life, and of life and death.

Dainty Sulphur sips from the edge of a spoon. She really is dainty, isn't she?

Dainty Sulphur sips from the edge of a spoon. She really is dainty, isn’t she?

February 13, later in the day. The butterfly fluttered in the kitchen; it had been over by the stove. I made more honey water but I don’t think it’s interested or has to find it on its own. I’d almost been relieved it had been “lost,” that I had no longer felt the pull of keeping track of it.

February 14, 2015.  The butterfly is living its life cycle. I don’t have to save it like some protective “master” who has more power and more intelligence. How about we live our life cycles next to each other, not intending harm, but not fretting unnecessarily about it, like I do about most animals, and most people? To do the kind thing when I can, but not to wear myself away figuring out how to save or fix the situation? What is there to fix, anyway?

Before, I said that here in my apartment and in winter, “it won’t survive.” What does that mean? Of course it will survive—it is a alive, it continues to be alive. But life is not just survival, it is living in and through the moments. We are all NOT going to survive in the end. We all die.

How long would it live in a normal life cycle? Two weeks to a month, the internet tells me.

Another butterfly, this one from summer at Partridge Run: Fritillary.

Another butterfly, this one from summer at Partridge Run: Tiger Swallowtail.

The definition of survive: “continue to live or exist, especially in spite of danger or hardship.” Isn’t living always a bit of an ordeal, under difficult circumstances? Is this life here in my apartment a hardship for her? Maybe, but danger is everywhere for butterflies: frogs, birds, getting trapped, getting smushed, parasites. Survival means getting through some situation—but both of us are not only getting through, but living in, our respective life situations.

I see me looking out the kitchen window, as the butterfly hangs on the glass today looking out as well into deep deep winter. Both drawn to what we are drawn to. I am not doing harm to it, not wanting it out of my life so I don’t have an obligation to it. Yes, I talk to the butterfly, Oh you don’t have to run so madly against the glass! but that is a message for me as well. I don’t have to fight against difficult circumstances, either.

If the tiny butterfly were sentient in the human way, perhaps she would wish things weren’t such a struggle for me, and even wish it could do something for me. As she hangs, rests, it reminds me of my meditation, in which I don’t have to get someplace, I can merely BE. On my yoga mat, feeling what I feel, thoughts wild or calm doesn’t matter, I note them and let them pass; I breathe. Perhaps she is just BE-ing, respiring.

A fritillary of some sort, also at Gore Mountain in the fall.

A fritillary of some sort, also at Gore Mountain in the fall.

We humans like to read meaning into things. For example, I was reading the All Over Albany blog, came across a link to a local writer, Amy Biancolli, and her blog, Figuring Shit Out, went to the blog, read some of it, ordered two of her memoirs from the library and then on a drive across town, happened to hear the beginning of her storytelling on The Moth Radio Hour. Ok, so I am meant to connect somehow with her or her writing. Or maybe she’s just out there, and I’m out there, and we intersect, like this butterfly who just happened to show up in my apartment, and I am learning things from the experience.

I fell in the love with the prologue to Amy’s first memoir, House of Holy Fools, where she writes about Death in her family as “an unwanted guest, oily and shrewd, with a stalker’s bad personal hygiene and pants that gave him a wedgie…”

I am thinking about the feeling of being stalked by death, what survival means, the role of death in our modern lives versus other eras (the 1918 flu epidemic, tuberculosis, recurrences of the plague through history). How unnatural death can seem, and yet it comes to everyone.

So here’s this butterfly to remind me: stop trying so hard; stop banging around. Just BE. It is valuable to JUST BE.

Back at the Chicago Botanic Garden, swans with babies, be-ing.

Back at the Chicago Botanic Garden, swans–symbols of fluidity, intuition, and dreaming–with cygnets, be-ing.

Part the Second: Wherein the Butterfly Drinks, And I Consider the Bugs in My Living Space

Dainty Sulphur, drinking!

Dainty Sulphur, drinking!

I’m still talking to a butterfly, in my kitchen.

February 12, 2015, later that day. Since she would not come to the tiny plastic feeder that I put out, this afternoon I spilled some of the honey water right next to her, onto the top of the air conditioner. She actually came and drank! It was fascinating to watch: antennae started waving once her tarsi (feet)—through which butterflies can “taste”—hit the liquid; her proboscis unfurled, so long it went under her belly, but into the fluid; and then she stepped away and curled the proboscis up again.

See the C-shaped, rolled up proboscis?

See the backwards C-shaped, rolled up proboscis in front of the green compound eye? The feathery looking bits above that are the “palps” which sense what is food and not-food.

Thinking about her survival, I flit between hard-edged City Woman and warm Earth Mother. Well, anyway, I say, there’s your honey water for a couple days. Don’t get stuck in it. Now she’s looking all satisfied, her previously flopped down abdomen—which is the hind end, with the center part actually called the thorax—bent up high.

Am I stupid to put out this sugary fluid for food? Aside from getting stuck in it, her wings might get wet! I blow gently; no, she can pull them up just fine. Nothing like a snack, I think. I could use one myself.

I am playing with anthropomorphism again, I realize, but am really, really clear I know I’m doing it.

****

The Dainty Sulphur is a small crushable creature, one of trillions.

I’ve stepped on, swatted and flattened probably hundreds of bugs its size and much larger: horrifying palmetto bugs and leaping hairy spiders in the Florida of my childhood, and hordes of German roaches in multiple student apartments. Even mice and rats were caught and drowned when they overran other living spaces. My mother always said to invading creatures as she squashed or sprayed them: You can live outside, but I can’t let you stay here. This is MY space.

I don’t mind sharing, but not with things that bite or sting me, or spread disease. I’m really allergic to dust spider bites and mosquitos, but understand that larger spiders and thousand-leggers eat such critters, so yes there is a hierarchy of acceptable and unacceptable bugs in my living space. I can whisk unwanted ones—bees, wasps—out the window but if they don’t go I can become insistent, and murderous—depending on how you define murder.

Luckily butterflies don’t hurt humans, though we can hurt them.

Chicago Botanic Garden.

Late summer Chicago Botanic Garden.

Carolus Linnaeus was the Swedish physician who established “binomial nomenclature,” the multitiered system of scientifically naming plants and animals. I recall the huge bronze statue (which, when my children were small, you could still belly up to and touch) of a kneeling Linnaeus at the Chicago Botanic Garden.  Up close, Linnaeus’ roughly hewn figure was formed of creatures and plants alighted on him, under him, wrapping him; with the collecting bag on his hip and eyes open and curious, his eager hand reached out to touch and identify still more on the ground.

Dainty Sulphur Butterflies, in Linnaeus’ classification are truly Insecta, and moving more specifically down the entomological nomenclature, fall into Lepidoptera (moths & butterflies) and Papilionoidea (non-skipper butterflies; do you see the French word for butterfly “Papillon”?), Pieridae (whites, yellows, sulphurs), Nathalis (sulphurs) and her full name: Nathalis iole.

Like a softie, I’ll leave the sweet water there for a while, probably wipe it up and then put out fresh, for this particular Nathalis iole. (Boy I hope I’m right that it’s a Dainty Sulphur! I would hate to find out I am All-Wrong scientifically.)

I cannot guarantee this butterfly’s survival or quality of life. However, I don’t have to squash this insect either, “put it out of its misery.” She does not harm me, and in fact is a little company, on a cold cold day.

Because bitter wind chills, twenty and thirty below, cause me to hunker down inside, both of us are stuck in my apartment for now. And I am getting to know this creature better.

Sure is snowy and blowy out there, isn't it?

Sure is snowy and blowy out there, isn’t it?

To be continued.

A taste of full summer with fountains: Brazilian vervain (verbena), which butterflies come to visit.

Remember summer? Fountains with Brazilian vervain (verbena), which butterflies come to visit (Chicago Botanic Garden).

Part the First: Wherein the Butterfly Arrives

My unexpected visitor.

My unexpected visitor.

February 11, 2015.  I’m talking to a butterfly, in my kitchen.

At first I thought it was a moth. My internet research indicates it’s a butterfly, and might be something called a Dainty Sulphur. I have no idea how it materialized in an upstate New York brownstone in the middle of winter.

Could it have been hiding in my apartment and if so, where was its chrysalis? Could it have traveled from another part of the country, the pupa attached to the dried moss of my December birthday amaryllis? Or did I carry it in with my bags of produce from the Niskayuna Coop?—after all, bananas, grapefruit and even paper bags come from far away.

Further investigating Dainty Sulphurs, I find its arrival proves somewhat unusual—they are not native and don’t overwinter here or fly in every year like an immigrant species; in fact, they are considered a vagrant species, one that only rarely comes up from the south.

It seems to be a summer phenotype, too, because of the yellow hindwings. In a winter individual, the hindwing would be greenish-gray, with additional black patches to absorb solar heat.

Sun-seeking.

Sun-seeking.

If I were to anthropomorphize—which as a scientific person I tend to avoid—right now it looks like the perhaps-summer butterfly is perched staring out the window, yearning for the sun, a whole-insect-body aching for outside, to move and flutter and find nectar and other butterflies.

When I go to bed, the butterfly is still there.

February 12, 2015. I know if I let it outside, it would freeze. I know inside, it will not survive, though how long does a butterfly live anyway? However, it certainly won’t mate, and I don’t quite know if and what it needs to eat and drink.

My sentimental heart, in spite of my lack of knowledge about butterflies, caused me yesterday to put out a little water-honey mixture, like you would for hummingbirds. This morning she—further research indicated it’s definitely a Dainty Sulphur but probably a female because she doesn’t have the reddish-orange hindwing scent patch of a male—this morning she was still resting, midlegs and hindlegs on my peeling paint window ledge, forelegs on the icy glass, peering out with her compound eyes.

Do butterflies sleep? She’s in the same position, and hasn’t touched the honey-water I dripped onto a tiny flipped-over plastic cup. (I thought it was a perfect shape, like a birdbath with an edge to rest on.)

Inside, looking out.

Inside, looking out.

Her position looks like: Mom, Mom, I want to go out and play! Like my kids used to sit on the back of the couch, heads in palms and feet warm on the radiator, looking out into the snowy exterior, thinking of all the adventures to be had later in the day, once breakfast was done and snowsuits were put on.

But this butterfly has no snowsuit and I have none to offer it. If nothing else, I will at least accompany this creature as we both look out the window, into the deep snow, into the near future. I don’t want to be a well-meaning idiot, like those who “rescue” baby birds from perfectly fine nesting areas when they have ventured a ways from their nest. So I’ve gone online and further studied forms and colors, behavior, size (yes at 22 mm she is a Dainty), and learned that the honey-water is perfectly acceptable food.

Mostly I marvel once again at the variety of things I have not seen, or did not look for, that I am discovering now, thanks to my Dainty Sulphur.

To be continued.

(Many thanks to my favorite insect information and identification website, Bug Guide.net, and in addition, the North American Butterfly Association website. I invite comments, especially from lepidopterists!)

Essay Tangles and Snarls

How I felt, essays all gnarled and ugly, on my way into the retreat.

Feeling defeated, essays all gnarled and ugly, on my way into the retreat.

Even with a short piece of writing, sometimes the initial story gets entwined in another.

The second small bit knots up with a third, maybe even a fourth and fifth, and all of a sudden you the author face thousands of words when you were only looking for a couple hundred. All the threads of connection seem intrinsically linked. Where can you slice so you aren’t left with a chopped up pile of confusion?

On top of it, the perfectionist editor-in-your-head won’t let go: The relationships between these things are amazing! amazing I tell you! She can’t allow the piece be simple and stand on its own.

That’s what happened to a blog-bound essay, then several essays, I planned to finish in October.
November.
December.

I did lots of other writing, for small groups and for the radio. I prepared to curate an evening of local memoir readings. I applied to artist residencies and photo exhibits.

Cut to the last weekend of January. I held one of my quarterly Move with Mindfulness/Write with Ease workshops. In the cozy retreat house, I led yoga and stretches for the writers and sun-on-snow hikes up the hill onto white pine lined trails. I cooked Mexican black bean soup and sweet rhubarb and blueberry coffeecakes.

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Mexican Black Bean soup savory with cumin, multi-colored carrots,  cheese curds and fresh cilantro.

No internet or TV, no voice phone service, and only minimal housekeeping interrupted us; instead, session followed session, where everyone was writing, including me.

The themes of the weekend were phrases we use often on the yoga mat:
Be grounded. Relax what you can. Be curious.

They apply equally well to writing.

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On the mats, in the welcoming morning warmth.

After one hike, I knocked the snow off my boots, made a cup of hot tea, and turned on my laptop. For months I’d averted my eyes, stomach aching, when confronted by the working titles on my computer screen. This time I clicked on the documents one by one to open them all together and finally faced down the matted tangle of five to eight potential blog posts.

I got mad when I saw how close I’d been to finished on several of them.
I got sad at how seasonal the topics “could have been.”
Then I got determined.

Over and over I learn the same lessons. That’s part of why I teach them.
Be grounded. Relax what you can. Be curious.

See the pretty things hidden in the tangles?

See the pretty thing hidden in the tangles?

I can’t yank apart the knots between them, I thought; that will break the teeth of the comb, and accomplish the same thing as sharp scissors snipping haphazardly (remember to be grounded). How were the strands initially woven together? My previous efforts deserve gentleness (relax what you can) and not being in a hurry (be curious).

What do you do to a mental or writing knot?

Same as the visualization in yoga: straighten out, unwind, free, loosen, unclasp, release. Breathe!

Deep sigh after deep sigh followed, with shouts of “D’uh!” (often, embarrassingly, out loud) as I realized places to tease out a conceptual filament and drop it separate. The connections didn’t have to be quite so tight as first imagined; pictured it in medical terms, the conjoining was at the toe, not the chest, and therefore my surgical intervention was simpler, with fewer complications.

Still struggling, I asked: What do you do with a physical knot of tightness in massage therapy? Breathe into the pain, stay with it and it will lessen. Your body (and your writing) will be happy you are paying attention. Be grounded. Relax what you can. Be curious.

I did that with my essay snarls. Over and over again. What a relief.

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Thump! Bump-bump! Pine cone rides the wind over snowy ground. Can I fly free, like that?

I’m not finished. But during the next few months, thanks to that weekend of attention to body and attention to writing, I look forward to posting some completely out-of-season, close (if not finished), relatively unsnarled meditations.

The sun setting on my work, at Still Point Retreat Center.

The sun setting on my work, sparkling its light everywhere, at Still Point Retreat Center.