I’ve been painting butterflies in anticipation of spring, which is almost here! I had the idea to do this last spring, as a way to tune in to the butterflies and the change of season. Last year, I did some research and drawings. This year, I’m happy to report, the paintings are happening.
As I’ve been considering butterflies and their larger meaning, a couple of aspects stand out:
We all know butterflies start out as caterpillars and then transform. But do you realize that inside the cocoon they liquify themselves? The being soon-to-be-known-as, Butterfly, wraps its caterpillar body up and turns it into a liquid, without dying. It does not die. Instead, in as little as two weeks, it transforms that liquid into an entirely new body.
“Then one day, [the cocoon] splits open and the adult crawls out…. Instead of the twelve or so tiny eyes it had as a caterpillar, the butterfly now has thousands of light sensors. These are grouped together to make two very big eyes, called compound eyes. For the first time, it can see the simple shapes and colors of leaves and other butterflies. It also has two long antennae on its head, which are covered with organs that sense touch and even smell. It is suddenly aware of the perfumes of flowers and can feel the wind tug at its new wings. Soon, the young butterfly becomes curious. It takes off.”– Nic Bishop, Butterflies and Moths
When it emerges from the cocoon, the butterfly doesn’t even eat the same food anymore. Caterpillars are voracious leaf eaters — butterflies sip nectar.
That is metamorphosis, and butterflies do it all the time, as if it was no big deal.
Moving on from that bit of amazement …
Delicate Yet Strong
Butterflies are a contradiction in terms. They appear to be the most delicate of creatures, but monarchs fly all the way from Canada and the US to Mexico on paper-thin wings. It feels so soft and gentle to have a butterfly flutter around you, but that little body can fly 2500 miles.
“These wings are one of the most amazing creations of nature. They are lighter than feathers, yet strong enough to carry a butterfly or moth for hundreds of miles of flying.”– Nic Bishop, Butterflies and Moths
I’ve seen pictures taken of Native American men wearing butterflies on top of their heads. It was obviously a way of honoring some aspect of the creature, but it looked silly to me. Now that I’ve spent some time with the butterflies though, I’d kind of like to put one on my head, too.
But I think I’ll stick with the paintings and this blog post for now. 🙂