Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A flutter

This beautiful black swallowtail butterfly greeted me on my first day back at the center. I came in to the garden workroom and was filled with awe. After all the broken bones of 2007, its unexpected presence on this cold, snowy day seemed like a blessing from above. A sign of the beauty that would unfold in the new year.

But you've probably also noticed that spider lurking above the swallowtail. Yes, just as quickly as I sliced an orange to nourish my fluttering friend, the resident jumping spider took a leap on to the butterfly's body, startling it into an unnatural stiffness, incongruent with its graceful flight of a few minutes prior.

I've told the butterfly's story (notice I don't think of it as the spider's saga) to a number of people, looking for an answer as to why this symbol of my beautiful new year had to come to an end by Jan. 3rd at noon!

Max joined me in my quest for meaning. He examined the specimen I brought home in a takeaway salad container, heard the story and looked at the photos. He went from budding entomologist to a nurturing naturalist as the story unfolded. At the end, he was sad and shed a few tears. "Why did the spider have to do that to the butterfly?"

We had already planned to go to the Nature Museum that day so we took our photo and story with us. The docent in the butterfly haven there was not moved by the story. "Yes, that can happen," she explained in a disinterested way. We pressed her to speculate on why it happened. "The spider must have been very hungry," she added. "It never could have done anything with the wings, so it was a lot of effort for just the head and body". Would it happen again? What could we do to prevent it? Her answers were so nondescript I can't even remember them.

A scientist at the University emailed: "Well, at least something good came out of it." referring to the spider's full belly (thorax? body? Whatever). His Darwinian explanation sat there as still as the butterfly but not nearly as endearing.

A few days later I found my answer in a book I am loving, "Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening" by Fran Sorin (who studied at the U of C with Erika Fromm). It is a perfect read as I start another quarter of garden classes with youth and continue to plan this year's garden. It's a bit of a self-help book with a garden bed in place of a therapist's couch. Still thinking about the spider and butterfly saga, the chapter of living with ambiguity held my attention.

A few favorite excerpts:

"But one of the crucial elements of any creative personality is the ability to live with ambiguity; that is, to be able to sit comfortably in the not-knowingness and let things unfold as they will."

"Try to use your garden as an opportunity to learn to live with ambiguity. Sit with the 'not-knowing' for awhile and see what happens. I think you'll be surprised at how much more inspired you are when you remove the pressure of having to figure it all out and just let yourself meander through it, piece by gentle piece."

So instead of "mentally burning my way through" I took a deep breath and wandered under the 60-degree sunshine, letting myself get entranced with all the wonders of nature ... garlic waking up from its fall sleep, lettuce curling crisply after being buried under 1 foot of snow, scrumptious spinach bursting out of its icy jacket, even a dandelion waiting to wave its buttery yellow flower and then turn into a puff of wishes blown to the wind.

I still don't have a tidy answer to the spider and butterfly story but I'm also not trying too hard to find one, either.


Jenny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenny said...

Silly me! I had a typo and was trying to edit my comment but deleted it and now an air of mystery hangs around my first comment.

All I wanted to say is that this image is lovely and troubling at the same time and I love the story of you and max trying to work the riddle out and then deciding to let it go unsolved, as so many my own riddles remain.

Beautiful, and hopeful too. Thanks for helping me tonight through this post.

tralala said...

gooood stuff

Ser said...

You know, Marji, I thought I commented on this post a long time ago. I love your account of trying to figure out why this happened, and your conclusion that you must live with the uncertainty. I also really like imagining Max as you describe him here. He is such a neat (and funny!) kid.

eva said...


I just finally found Ser's blog and now yours and though we are all far away from each other, I love that blogging makes us able to see these beautiful glimpses into each other's lives. Though I have no great pretensions of my blog, having conceived it as an expedient way to communicate our adventures in France without mass emailing, it randomly connected me to someone who has become a precious friend here in La Rochelle. Technology can really enrich our human relationships... I'll be checking in here often!


Nancy said...

I have no idea why it took me so long to find your blog, but here I am. What a wonderful post! The living with uncertainty reminds me of advice I've gotten at a couple of difficult times, and it has been spot-on both times. The second time I switched to majoring in biology, and you're right: watching living things *is* about living with uncertainty.

And this is our little community, isn't it? Yeah!

Jenny said...

Oh Marji, Marji, where are you? I've been fluttering over to your lovely blog ever so often only to find that no new posts have landed. I imagine you must be very busy, but I miss your voice and your stories--if we can't talk via blog, perhaps in person, sometime soon?