I’ve experienced a miracle this afternoon.
The story begins a few weeks ago on an unseasonably warm winter day. Those are awesome days and perfect times to throw open all of the windows and air out the stale smells that accumulate from October through February.
When I opened my bedroom window there was a startling flutter and I looked down to see a butterfly wedged in the window frame. I quickly realized that it was dead and the dried wings simply moved as the tension of the closed window relaxed and air rushed past. I tried to blow it off but it was stuck, maybe half frozen there.
It upset me a bit to have to wedge the body back in tight with the window later that day. I knew it was dead but still sad to see a beautiful butterfly squished.
Today, March 24, was the first warm spring day we’ve had since then. I ran around opening windows again and the same thing happened only this time, when I popped the tension on the bedroom window the butterfly really did spring to life and flit and flutter against the screen before sailing off like a leaf, spiraling downward and landing softly on the tip of a pine tree branch.
Stunned, I allowed the realization that it was actually alive and had been this whole time sink in as I watched it perching on the branch in the front yard. Then I panicked. There’s three feet of snow on the ground and it was already after 5 pm. The sun would set soon and the butterfly would freeze to death for certain.
I ran downstairs and threw on my boots and dashed out the back yard and around to the front. I haven’t been maintaining the front walk this winter so the snow was well over my boot tops as I trudged through to the tree I saw the butterfly land in.
I couldn’t see it. I scanned all around the white expanse of my yard thinking it had to be close by, maybe already freezing in the shade that falls on that side of the house first. I crouched down at the base of the tree where there was some exposed ground and after looking inch by inch closely at the pine cones and rust-coloured needles, spied it, wings tight together and vibrating. It was sitting on a little pile of snow crystals among the dirt. I reached in and easily palmed it and then cupped both hands around it gently making a bubble and started back for the house.
I could feel it come to life in the warmth of my hands and by the time I got in the house it was batting madly trying to get free. I put it in a bowl with a glass lid and it is lovely. It has orange splashes and several degrees of brown on it’s wings and as soon as I set it in the sun it spread them wide and slowly fanned them up and down. I can only imagine how good it must feel to spread your wings after having been sandwiched in a window all winter long.
And for me… ohhhh to see such vivid colour on a living, breathing creature after these long, silent, dark months of winter. Wonderous! I kept my eye out for creepy crawlies this afternoon as I sat in a lawn chair in a little snow-cleared patch of my back yard while the dogs played but nothing moved. This butterfly is a feast for the senses!
But how has it survived? We’ve had a cold winter this year and a long winter. It was between the plastic frame and the elements that sat at minus 40 often over the last few months and usually around minus 20 or so. How have its wings, so delicate that I didn’t want to touch them as I scooped it gingerly into my palm under the tree so as not to injure the fine hairs on them, survived temperatures so cold it cracked two plastic shovels in my yard this winter?
I’m amazed. And now I’m worried that I may be killing it with kindness. Is it better to try and save it in an ice-cream pail until real spring arrives so it can emerge into the light as it probably would have if I hadn’t opened the window today? Or, is it better to let it fly free and survive only an hour before succumbing to the cold for ever?
Human intervention. So often we mean well and still screw it up for nature.
Somehow it has survived without light or food or water or room to stretch its wings all these months and so I am inclined to keep it in the pail with air holes in semi-darkness and see if it will stay put until the snow is gone and some green returns to the woods around us.
Only now that it has had a taste of freedom, it is frantically flying about in the pail and I’m sad to have confused it.
I decided to see if it had settled down and maybe I could get a photo for this post and it’s good that I did. It was lying lifeless on its side at the bottom of the pail. I opened the lid and it had spilled the shallow plastic lid of water that I’d set inside. Drowning in a millimeter of water! I’m such a loser.
I dumped the whole thing into the bathroom sink and it didn’t move. I nudged it upright and just like before, the wings began to vibrate in spite of being soaking wet. Poor thing. What a day.
I set the pail upside down over top of it and went for a new, smaller container and by the time I got back to the bathroom it was flying around inside the pail. It was tricky moving it from there to the new container.
Now it is snuggled into an icing jar with air holes, NO water and not enough room to harm itself … I think! Back into darkness on my clothes closet shelf and safe from cats … I think.
Nature never ceases to amaze me. I love when stuff like this happens and I thought it was worth sharing.