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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Does Butter Fly When Churned with Water?

I was out for my morning miles, just getting started actually, and totally lost in thought that shall now never be recalled. 

All of a sudden, I was distracted by a huge butterfly the color of it's namesake lying open on the path, not moving at all. Did it pick this very moment to die?

It stopped me in my tracks with it's rich yellow hues, as if it were freshly churned. And it stopped me in my train of thought to wonder, what is it doing here?  Spring ended yesterday. Why was this guy still hanging around? And why hadn't a bird snapped it up for breakfast? If the early bird gets the worm, does the late hiker get the butterfly?

This creature would bear further inspection. I needed to get it home where I have one of those magnifying lamps on my desk. But how could I best carry it? I had just started my walk and still had miles to go. I had no Ziplock or easy way to hold a butterfly.

As a student of Zen, THIS was a worthy challenge - even a bit poetic. Could I carry a dead butterfly for miles without breaking it?  Would this task bring enlightenment?

I pulled my shirt sleeve down over my right hand cupping it against my belly hoping the cloth would do less damage. Next I picked up the butterfly by the tip of the wing and put it on it's prepared shelf. I started out slowly then headed on up the path at a faster clip. This was easy I thought, keeping an eye on my passenger.

I was wrong. Carrying a butterfly is more difficult than you might think. Even the breeze from walking buffets it about. It fell off twice in the first mile. After that I got better with my balance. Or so it seemed. I carefully moved on.

There is this one steep hill just before the highway. As I went down carefully a serious breeze caught the butterfly's wings. But it held its position against the wind! It was holding on to the cotton with its feet!  Was this a death-spasm?  Or maybe just a contraction from the process of dying?  Well then, it would die in my arms, I laughed to myself as I cupped him with both hands and ran across the highway.

Back at the house I looked for something to set it on so I could check it out under the magnifying glass. There was a stiff advertising post card with the power bill. That would work for now. Later I would want something completely white as a background for photos. Its feet were definitely attached to the threads of my shirt. I could feel them pull away as I picked him up by the wings.

Under the glass it was even more beautiful than before. The color was amazing. Then his legs started moving. Was this another spasm? The butterfly had a spiral tongue, and it unwound - like a dog waking up from a nap. This creature was alive! Or was it?  I watched for minutes.  It didn't move any more.  This WAS becoming an exercise in Zen.  So was that another dying gasp?  Or just yawning? I turned off the light and went to work at the computer.

A while later I checked again. No movement. And there was no change by the time I left for breakfast. It was laid out flat on the post card - perfect for mounting.

When I returned a couple of hours later it had moved. It was now on its side with its wings closed. Damn, I thought, I didn't want it dying in that position. I needed it flat for display.

I gently pulled its wings apart. But back they went. Do butterflies get rigor mortis? Again I carefully pulled them apart. They flipped back.  I was curious.  I turned on the light for a closer look - no other movement. Maybe it had died and then dried out in that position. Water might relax it a bit. I took it to the sink and splashed it with a couple drops. No change.

I let it soak a few seconds then pulled the wings apart again. It flapped out of my fingers and into my face! It then flew across the room banging into my dining room window. That settled that. It was definitely alive. It just needed a drink of water.

I quickly moved to catch it but it went up high. I stepped on the chair. Still not high enough. I stepped up on the table and caught him cupping my hands over the window. He stopped flapping. Did it remember my smell? Or was it just scared?

I pulled the sliding glass door open with my elbow and took it out on the deck. As I opened my hands, it just sat there. Now it didn't want to leave. Go figure. I poked it and it took to the air. This was no timid departure. It went almost straight up about twenty feet landing on the top of a tree near my deck.

So does butter fly when churned with water? This one certainly did.

And did I find the path to Zen enlightenment?   Nope.  Not even close.

But I did learn not to make assumptions about life.

Or when it ends.

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