Saturday, July 7, 2012

Of Copperheads and Butterflies

            I saw a copperhead on the trail yesterday. Not long, about eighteen inches, it raised its small head and watched me, I assume carefully, and I watched it back, then took a photo with my phone. If I can figure out how to send it to myself, I’ll post it.
            Missouri has been an orderly procession of flowering trees, shrubs, and woodland vegetation, each seeming to take a week or two, where it dominates, and then passes the baton onto the next bloomer. When I arrived in March, redbud was blooming everywhere, even as trees were slow to leaf out, and the simplicity of the bright pink branches against the grey made the woods look like Japanese paintings. There were violets about an inch tall, and then shortly the phlox, the bush honeysuckle, and then the sprays of white berry flowers, complemented briefly by more white sprays of tiny wood roses, less than an inch across, which bloomed briefly and were gone. 

     The dogwoods and the apple trees took their turn as well. In June, the traditional honeysuckle scent was everywhere, and wild strawberries decorated the edges of the trails. I tasted one, and it was gritty and tasteless, so must be a different kind than those everyone rhapsodizes about. The deer love them.

(I could really use a good butterfly book!)

            Insects, too, seem to have a specific season, a short period in the sun. For a while, there were butterflies everywhere on the paths, each kind being dominant for a couple of weeks, and then disappearing as the next group arrived. When I left for a brief sojourn at home, Eastern Commas and Fritillaries were everywhere. Those have disappeared, and now the beautiful ebony dragonflies helicoptering among the bushes near the creek signal the sticky hot summer, which has arrived (it was 105 today), curtailing all but the earliest hiking.

            I love these passages of season, although I could do without the heat. I think whether flowers or insects, each species has evolved into a specific niche as a time when fewer competitors are about, maximizing their chances.  
We humans don’t seem to do that – we’re everywhere, and at all times. Look at our mate-seeking rituals. What different opportunities abound for happiness when we have all these choices and not just the boy in the next valley who happens to be the only single man for miles, even if he is unsuitable as a mate! We don’t have to settle, although our evolution hasn’t caught up with that fact. Instead of “one for us,” maybe its ten or one hundred greatest choices, and yet we screw up, we make mistakes, for our biology is still wired for the eras when so few choices and chances existed. I’m glad I’m not stuck in those days. I’d rather have it this way.  Happiness and good relationships still take work, and are still worth it. That hasn't changed.
Composed during a retreat:

This, then, is my altar:  a butterfly on the path,
Its wings opening and closing gently,
Showering brilliance as it absorbs the sun
And waits for ladies.

This, then, is my altar: the four young pines
In front of me, and beyond, the lake,
Where osprey wheel, searching for lunch,
And the wind gentles.

This, then, is my altar, the Truth of who I am:
My Christ embraces all the stars.
God within, and God in nature are the same,
Whole, and One forever.


  1. Gwen, you are the most amazing writer - and a wonderful photographer, as well! Thank you so much for sharing your gift with all of us. You have a way of saying things that is as if you had used your delicate brush strokes on a canvas. Thank you! Moe

  2. Very lovely. Thank you. Molly Strong