MANN TALK: Where Do Butterflies Sleep?

by Perry Mann

I have a flower garden. It consists mostly of zinnias, cosmoses and marigolds with a few calendulas. The zinnias and marigolds have proliferated. They are now in full bloom with some generations wilting and new generations budding and flowering. It is a glorious sight to see, particularly in late evening when the sun, low in the west, directs its eye point-blank at the garden.  I can view it out my front window where I sit in my easy chair. Its looks in the sun like a Saturday football stadium with its thousands of faces.

There are, among creatures that are enamored of the flowers, the bumblebee and the butterfly. The bumblebee this time of the year finds a zinnia or marigold bloom he desires and takes up residence on it. He spends the night.  He is faithful to the flower of his choice. His faithfulness owes more to meteorological conditions than loyalty to fidelity. This time of year the bumblebee is lethargic. Once he has found his desire there he lies night and day. If one pokes the bee with a finger, he just indicates slight irritation and resumes his fall slumber in the arms of his marigold.      

The butterfly is scandalously wanton. She comes to the flower bed flying like a top gun pilot on methadone. She soars above, wheels around and around, dives recklessly, touches down for a nanosecond on an orange zinnia, speeds to another and another touching tentatively, soars again upward and over and around, dives to the flowers, skims some and lights slightly on one. Then she finds her true interest and settles down for a long period kissing blissfully a red zinnia and imbibing its nectar. After a while, she is off soaring above, wheeling this way and that and going up with the speed of a rocket and coming down with the weight of lead to choose again some zinnia upon which  to stop awhile. This is repeated until the sun has shifted its light from this garden and focused it on flowers that are blossoming many latitudes west of me. And then at dusk the butterfly is gone. Where does she spend the night?     

Most creatures find a place to rest at night but some creatures sleep in day and prey at night. The butterfly is a day creature. She loves the sunshine and the warmth of it. Rarely does one see her when the sky is overcast and the weather is cool. Where she stays on such days is a mystery but the greater mystery is where she sleeps at night.    

 Most birds when night comes hie to trees to roost. There they are safe from the daytime predators, who cannot see in dark and do not hunt at night. The owl is a worrisome creature to roosting birds. They are game for the owl and for other predators that roam the dark and have sight at night and can inventory trees for meals. Chickens of the domestic kind have a domicile to enter when darkness comes. They enter it and find a roost upon which they find a place to settle down. The place a chicken roosts depends on its social position in the chickenarchy. The top rungs are for the highest in the pecking order, a place farthest above a sly fox’s reach.    

 The squirrel finds a hole in a tree and furnishes the interior with nesting material and there lays himself down to sleep during the nights when comes winds and snows and cold of winter.  He also has the equivalent of a second home, a home for summer days. He collects leaves and fashions a nest in the fork of an oak miles from the ground, where on summer days when he has had his full of nuts, he goes to dream that no hunter during the coming fall will fill his hide with shot and to rest and plan for his future---a future of procreation and nut-hunting, two occupations of life not unlike that of Wall Street traders.

The rabbit, the wimpiest of all animals, has only her speed to protect her life. She nests like a bird only she nests on the ground, a place where jeopardy frequents more often than in tree limbs. Her nest embraces half her body. If a predator comes too close, she exits her nest with gunshot suddenness. And if pursued too closely, if not caught or shot, she takes refuge in a hole in the ground or in a rock bar. Otherwise she circles and returns to her known haunts. All life has a home.  

The quail in winter get together. They form a covey or family. They cooperate in order to survive the cold and the predators. If a predator happens upon their sanctuary, there is an explosion of feathers flying outward from the intruder, each quail going in a different direction, sailing to a random stop alone. The survivors of the intrusion gather again to nest in the night, huddled together to bring a sense of security to their lives. Cheney wouldn’t understand that a quail loves living.

The bee hies to the hive when the day’s work is done. She visits hundred of flowers, inhales the nectar, returns to the hive, stores the riches she has collected and rests to buzz about her adventures and then to bed in a sea of honey. But the bee is bee-line oriented. No soaring up and diving down and roller-coastering joyously with a beak of intoxicating pollen. The butterfly to the bee is a wastrel but the bee envies her delicate beauty and flights of fancy.  

  So where does the butterfly go when evening comes and the day goes from dusk to dark? Where does this creature, constructed with spider webs and filaments of silkworms and whose wings are woven of cumulus clouds, sculpted by Michelangelo and painted by da Vinci---go to relax, relive the day and dream of zinnias. Surely, she does not settle on some roof of a town house or backyard bush of a member of a garden club.  

I like to think that she wings to a hemlock forest shaded in day and dark, dark at night. She has a nest in the fork where a limb leaves the trunk of a hemlock, one that touches the clouds. There her nest is formed with the gossamer of milkweed, dyed purple with the juice of elderberries. An excrescence of bark serves as her canopy. The queen of flowers lies there for the night looked over by fairies and guardian angels sent by the Maker of it all to protect this delicate, beautiful  and innocent  creature,  one that preys on nothing but just purloins pollen from zinnias.   

When morning comes she does her toilet in a pristine spring and when the sun comes up she comes  a-wing to my garden to dance in flight with the grace of a deer from flower to flower to sip sweets.  

            

* * *  Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV. He was born in Charleston, WV in 1921.        
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