Butterflies

As the solstice grows closer, and our days darker, the more we become moths to a flame—any flame. When the sun is less shy, we pause on the sidewalk to bask in it. We spend hundreds of dollars on daylight alarm clocks and desk lamps. We supplement our diets with salmon, Swiss chard, yams, and kale.

And we wait, gnashing our teeth until we make it over the hurdle of December 21st, when the days begin to get longer.

Until then, we find surprising safe harbors, like the Pacific Science Center’s butterfly exhibit, which is heated to tropical temperatures and illuminated by colossal natural spectrum lights.

After fueling up on coffee and crepes at 611 Supreme, Erin and I wrapped ourselves against the damp of our walk through Sunday’s grayness to Seattle Center. Wading through eerily outdated architecture and exhibits, we found ourselves quickly removing our thermal jackets and vests as we entered the butterflies’ lush, muggy domain.

It’s a carefully manicured paradise, the kind one might expect inside the BioSphere project, only with butterflies of all sizes and colors flitting from one tree to the next. Some were large and cheeky, swooping near us with palm-sized blue wings; others were small and friendly, with painter’s dabs of orange on black canvas wings. I felt overwhelmed by Nature as they landed on us and played tag with each other—yellow, green, brown, red, cobalt—pausing to slurp mushy banana from small plates scattered amongst the plants.

Yet, as close as we felt to these living things, to the leafy green trees that encircled us, it was overwhelmingly controlled and unnatural. Inside this false Eden, Nature was free and bound all at once, like in the cocoons we saw.

Erin and I examined the collection of hanging chrysalides under glass, each fastened with a colored bobby pin to the back of a display case. Many of the small oblong sacs were sealed with shiny metallic secretions; others looked like crumpled leaves or brown paper. A few soon-to-be butterflies wriggled inside their brilliant chrysalides, some with antennae poking out. Several newborn butterflies sat placidly on the bottom of the case, drying their wings, first up…then down. …Up …Then down.

Until the time is right for them to play with the other butterflies, they, too, must wait.

We sat near the pond, barely noticing the fat koi behind us, as we identified each butterfly circling our faces. They occasionally landed on our heads and lips before taking off again. We rolled up our sleeves and closed our eyes, delighting in the room’s warmth as much as the bright lights and cascades of butterflies swarming gently around us.

A couple of butterflies dropped to the ground with damaged wings; we learned later that they can actually lose half a wing and still manage to fly. I made a sad face when we found that butterflies aren’t able to regenerate them; like a human limb, once a wing is gone, it’s gone.

After soaking up as much light and warmth as we could take, I walked Erin to her bus stop, then headed for home on Queen Anne Avenue where I confirmed that the Uptown Theater was officially closed. It made me think of the other things in my life that are now either closed or are on their way to being so.

This summer in Civita, it felt dramatic to wonder how and what those things might be; some endings have surprised me while others seem right in line. What continues to give me pause is how many things are ending or transforming all at once—or have gone dormant and may never revive. These outcomes would have occurred eventually, but stepping away for a couple of months inside the chrysalis of Civita was the kick-start of that transformation. Friends have left for other states and countries; establishments have gone under; relationships have ended; co-workers have changed jobs.

There are regenerative changes, too. Loved ones are growing more strong and confident; some are getting married or having children while others are starting new business ventures. The grantor for our CityLab project has announced a third round of funding that will encourage new partnerships. My book will be finished by the end of the year. I’m beginning to see ways of returning to Italy.

Like the transmutative powers of a chrysalis, a chain reaction has been set into motion—and it can’t be stopped. Now, as the churning and cellular growth begins to slow, I wonder what color my wings will be when I emerge in 2011…and which new and familiar mates will escape their own chrysalides to go flying with me when I leave the refuge.

Yet, like the solstice, which is imminent but not yet here, this in-between cocoon is where I’m at.

I can see great potential in the world outside—budding friendships, deepening partnerships, newfound creative opportunities—but conditions aren’t ripe yet. Even the electronics I’m destined (and eager) to replace haven’t come out with the next models yet.

And so, like for the solstice or the spring, I wait. I don’t yet know how things will play out, but I definitely have butterflies.

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