Sunday, August 22, 2010


Rose of Sharon Sunrise, Jamestown, NC
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly with Bee, Jamestown, NC
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Drinking Nectar, Jamestown, NC
Black Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Drinking Nectar, Jamestown, NC
Black Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Taking Flight, Jamestown, NC

Have you ever had that eerie experience, especially when you’re alone, and you suddenly become aware that you’re no longer alone anymore? I was recently laboriously trimming shrubbery around my backyard deck in the heat and humidity of a sundrenched August afternoon. Sweat was dripping from my forehead and I was intently focused on completing the task at hand so that I could retreat back through the escape portal of the nearby back door into my air conditioned sanctuary. I had been working for at least half an hour in seeming solitude. And then I caught a flurry of movement in the corner of my peripheral vision. When I finally turned in curiosity, I witnessed a rush of fluttering activity over and amongst the Rose of Sharon trees that were still in full blooms of white and dark pink colors. Almost magically, at least a dozen migrating Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies had descended upon the flowers to quench their thirst and renew their strength and spirits by drinking in the sweet nectar of the summer blooms. Their winged pollination dance among the competing bumble bees was almost trance like. The male is yellow with dark tiger stripes. The female can be yellow like the male or black with shadows of dark stripes and iridescent blue scales and an orange marginal spot. A male and female began a choreographed spiraling dance down to the grass at my feet. It looked like a Colorado golden eagle courtship flight display, but perhaps they were simply jousting for territorial rights.

Once I had taken in the entire stage of winged actors rapidly moving from flower to flower, I bolted through the back portal to seek both some needed relief from the heat and my digital camera. I then took a break from the manual labor and spent the next hour attempting to capture images of these elusive creatures that were actually in focus. Many were not, but a precious few were keepers. That’s completely OK with a dedicated photographer. I took note of the time. The feeding frenzy occurred around two o’clock that afternoon. So, I arranged my “frenzied” retirement schedule the following day to recapture the scene. However, when I emerged into my backyard, not one butterfly was in sight. Perhaps they were already drinking in the sweet nectar of blooming bougainvillea on the sandy dunes of the Gulf coast. The moment was gone, except for those few “keepers” from one of life’s lucky, magical moments.

The spiritual journey of the butterfly has been the source of great wonder for all ages and cultures. The metamorphosis of this life form is symbolic of renewal, transformation, death, rebirth or resurrection, awakening, consciousness, courage, love, joy, and hope. That hope for us human beings is for positive change or spiritual rebirth and the winged release of our spiritual soul once we depart this earthly life. The analogy is unmistakable when we see the physical body of the caterpillar morph through the chrysalis stage into an elegant winged spirit. Native American legend and myth are alive with butterflies. The Blackfeet believed that butterflies bring us dreams as we sleep. The very spiritual Hopi decorated prehistoric pottery with butterflies and butterfly kachina figures are personified in their butterfly dance. The Aztecs believed that contented deceased souls in the form of beautiful butterflies visited their relatives to assure them that all is well. Many contemporary people share this sentiment and what more perfect life force could possibly convey this message? The Aztecs always sniffed a flower from the side because they believed the fragrant tops are reserved for the souls to visit. Closely observed with measured contemplation, the spirit of the butterfly can indeed awaken our own spirit.

I’ve since learned that butterflies migrate during the day, navigate by the sun and perceive polarized light on overcast days. They use their antennae to sense the wind for the scent of nectar. Their wings of flight are beautifully crafted of pigmented micro scales that scatter reflected light due to their photonic crystal nature. Butterflies have both a fore and hind set of independent wings to permit a more graceful flight. The observed discoloration and health of butterflies is now a “canary in the coal mine” indicator of air quality in major cities. If the butterfly becomes endangered, so do we human beings.

Life presents many memorable experiences when the eyes of our hearts are open to them. I’ve always believed that we do indeed “see in life what we look for”. The universal balance reveals a seemingly equal number of both positive and negative sights and experiences. Both a camera and a Bible sharpen our intellectual and sensory perspective. I’ve had the good fortune to travel extensively over the past fifty years. Isn’t it ironic—or perhaps not at all—that one of the most magical experiences of my life occurred in my own backyard?

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