(Written for another, now defunct, blog in September of 2005.)
By Scott Ross
Butterfly wings, fairy tale kings…
So sang Doctor Dolittle, anyway. The Leslie Bricusse one, not the Hugh Lofting. And anyway, it wasn’t the doctor, it was Matthew Mugg. Or Anthony Newley as Matthew. But I’m getting further away from the subject. Which is:
Sitting on the back porch of the office this afternoon, reading Son of a Witch and indulging in the twin perversions of caffeine and nicotine, I noticed a fluttering off to my right. Looking over I saw a butterfly. Late in the season, it seems to me, but it was a beautiful thing. The portion of wings closest to the body a purple so deep it seemed black, and on the tips a pattern in navy blue. There was no light to catch it today, but I thought that if there had been the blue pattern would have sparkled like the rarest of gems.
It flitted about aimlessly, in circles from parked car to asphalt and concrete, and over again. Now and then it paused on the ground to raise and lower its wings slowly, and I wondered if perhaps it was newly born. (Or newly chrysalized?) With its dark coloring and its flitting movements, it resembled a small bat — another creature I can watch on its rounds with great pleasure.
Several weeks ago I came out in the morning to find that someone, during the night, had deposited a small tub of colored goo bearing a Smoothie label on the porch. I found its lid and attached it. Eventually, tiring of the constant swarming of flies and ants, I moved it to the ground. At my touch the lid flew off — propelled, I assume, by the pent-up gas. There it has sat, turning rancid and vinegary, and a spider has set up her web nearby to catch the odd errant fly.
After a time, the butterfly began wending its way toward this monstrosity. Becoming fearful it would somehow either fall into the tub, or brush the web and, in either case, become hopelessly enmeshed, I knelt nearby to … right it? save it? I’m only sure that, had it somehow slipped and fallen into that putrid vat, I’d have found some delicate means of extricating it. Each time the butterfly wrested itself away from the lure of the tub and flit about, I held out my arm, palm down, as a resting place. Something in me wanted this creature to land on me, however briefly. To be, for a moment, a part of its beauty.
It never did, but I was relieved when, after falling into the tub and quickly righting itself again, it flew away, very rapidly now, to the east. I was reminded of how, a couple of weeks ago on a warm, sunny afternoon, I was gifted to witness the progression down our sidewalk of a pair of Buddhist monks. The deep saffron wraps trimmed with sumptuous orange, the cheerful silence even as they conversed quietly, was a kind of benediction on the day.
So it was with the butterfly: A measure of grace, unexpected, as grace always is, to bless a surly, sunless afternoon.
Text (other than Bricusse’s lyric) Copyright 2005, 2019 by Scott Ross