To fly like a butterfly, embrace the struggle

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 28, 2004

From Oaxaca, Mexico, a coffee companion sent me a photograph and letter the other day that celebrate the wonder of "gratuitous beauty."

Last week's column featuring Bruce Hollenbach's photo of a Three-tailed Swallowtail butterfly attracted some beautiful responses from many of our coffee companions.

As you will recall, Bruce had cared for the tiger-striped, blue-dotted, orange-accented butterfly from the time it was a caterpillar. He saw in the complex patterns of its wings the wonder of "gratuitous beauty."

From west of Cochrane came this note of praise from another outstanding photographer whose work is often seen in catalogues and calendars:

THIS IS A particularly stunning picture of a Swallowtail butterfly. The first time I ever saw one was on the shore of the Shuswap Lake in B.C. It appeared that someone may have spilled (or emptied out) a can of juice on the beach. There were about a dozen Swallowtails, all cavorting around on the sand with their tongues out, and I took a picture of them which I have to this day. I cannot recall that they were quite as colorful as Bruce's picture, though.

—Angus McNee, Ghost Lake Village


WHAT A BEAUTIFUL column. Reading it brought to mind a time I was grieving the loss of my father. Two cheerful creamy yellow butterflies danced and fluttered around me as I reclined on my front deck one sunny afternoon. Their presence delighted me, but they had more in store for me.

Much to my amazement, they alit in tandem on my chest, near my heart – a loving and comforting touch, sent to me from the Maker of "all things bright and beautiful."

—Lindsie Haxton, Cochrane

CLEARLY, LINDSIE is not alone in her sentiment. From Victoria, B.C., Fraser Pakes remembered something Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote:

"Happiness is a butterfly which when pursued is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight on you."

Calgary coffee companion Debbie Faulkner agrees. "Gratuitous beauty?" she wrote. It's "a footprint of grace!"

Several readers – myself included – wondered how Bruce was able to get such a perfect shot of the Swallowtail. So, I wrote back to him and asked.

He responded:

THE BUTTERFLY had just emerged from its chrysalis. I took the picture inside, with sunlight falling through a window. I placed the butterfly on a stick, which I stuck in a pot of dirt, so I could place it and turn it to get the right fall of the light and the right background. The butterfly was cooperative, since it was in the final stage of drying out its wings and had yet to try them out. Two or three minutes after taking my pictures, I placed the pot, stick, and butterfly out of doors, and the butterfly took off almost immediately, not to be seen again, by me anyway.

—Bruce Hollenbach, Oaxaca, Mexico

FINALLY, from Calgary, writer/editor Monique Achtman responded with some butterfly wisdom that all of us could heed.

She shared with me a story that has appeared in various forms over the years. It's of a young boy who, like Bruce, had a caterpillar that entered the chrysalis stage in its metamorphosis. But unlike Bruce, the boy felt sorry for the butterfly as it struggled to emerge through the tiny hole in its cocoon. He took some scissors and, thinking he was helping the butterfly, cut the cocoon open to set it free.

Unfortunately, the butterfly, with its swollen body and small, shriveled wings, was never able to fly. It needed the experience of struggling in order to prepare itself for flight. The boy had not done it a favour by robbing it of that experience.

Monique reminds us that struggles are an important part of growing up. It's often our struggles that allow us to develop our own ability to "fly."

And along this line, isn't this what artist-writer Trina Paulus is getting at in the following exchange?

"'How does one become a butterfly?' she asked pensively. 'You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.'"

© 2004 Warren Harbeck

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