The Symbol of Psyche

During the month of September 2021, I celebrated two milestones, my birthday and the first anniversary of this website. As fate would have it, Heart of a Star uses my birthstone as both a character and the cover art. Accident? Maw-ha-ha. I think not. Since no party is complete without a gift, I offered a free e-book download for those lucky enough to find a special business card. After a full month of celebrating, including a birthday cake containing Moonshine, taking October off seemed like a good idea.

That only lasted a few days, then I got knocked on my butt by a cold. Too much celebrating in September? Maybe. Though it did give me some time to decide what I wanted to do next. Breast cancer awareness? The cover of The Pearl Diver’s Song is pink and was published in Oct. 2020. That was an unplanned coincidence that had everything to do with the story itself, along with the arrival of the copyright certificate. I won’t publish a book without one. Maybe Halloween? Nope. I don’t write horror stories, though some people might disagree.

Turns out hindsight is a miraculous tool. I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion nothing I do is by accident. It’s either that, or I’m getting really good at figuring out how to brand the things which really matter to me. And why shouldn’t I? You don’t stand apart from the crowd by doing the same things as everyone else. I thought about creating this post as a podcast and the beginning of Season 2, but changed my mind. The inspiration came to me very recently, and the topic, like many things in life, is fleeting.

If you follow me on social media, you may have seen some recent photos I posted in the past month, featuring butterflies, and concluded I’m obsessed. You’re not wrong. I have a soft spot for most pollinators. All are welcome in my yard, only there is something about butterflies, in particular, which speak to the souls of artists and mystics. I actually get to see butterflies much of the year where I live. Look at a map. Surprise! A good bit of Texas is further south than southern California, including the Houston area. Many of my more memorable encounters with these enchanting insects have occurred in autumn and winter, though winter sightings are a bit rare.

The first time I spotted Giant Swallowtails was in the fall of 2014. A pair of them danced around my back yard for several minutes. They flawlessly mirrored each other in what was most likely a mating ritual. Not that I minded. It was beautiful to watch, and I was too entranced to create a video of it.  Which made me really sad afterward. Five years passed before I saw another Giant Swallowtail, then they were always single, until I spotted a pair this past August. Unfortunately, it was in the parking lot of my hair salon. I didn’t want to keep my stylist, Kelsie, waiting while I chased butterflies. I have been given some nice consolation prizes though. After several years trying to photograph and make videos of this elusive insect, I’ve succeeded in taking several nice ones this year. See, patience is a virtue. I also got some great photos and videos of Pipevine Swallowtails around my birthday. Fitting, since they have blue on their lower wings. I shared one of those photos on Google Maps, when I wrote a review for the Arbor Gate plant nursery in Tomball, Texas. Apparently, the photo is becoming popular.

My husband and I saw a Red Spotted Purple (Blue and black butterfly) near Paris, Texas during the first trip with our RV in August, 2015; managed to witness the Monarch migration at Kaw Lake, east of Ponca City, Oklahoma in October, 2017; and found a field in Kansas filled with thousands of Orange Sulphur butterflies in 2018.  None of those sightings were planned.

The Monarch migration was another lost opportunity. Our sighting was late in the day, just after we finished setting up our campsite. A large group of butterflies flew right over us, but the light was getting a bit low and our site was shady. That was another occasion I found myself fighting a cold. I came down with it just as we began the return trip home from Minnesota and some damp, chilly weather. My husband will confirm I was rather cranky by the time we reached Oklahoma. Bless those butterflies for giving me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at a moment when I felt really low. It’s now on my bucket list to travel the I-35 migration corridor from Minnesota through Texas, in the hope of repeating the experience. (No, not the cold.) With photographic and video proof, of course. I might even participate in the Monarch tagging program to see how many of my fellow travelers reach their sanctuary in Mexico.

My winter sightings were in 2015-16. Some of the first butterfly photos I took with my DSL camera when it was new, were of a Monarch who visited my citrus tree in January. It’s not so unusual for citrus to bloom during the winter here; seeing a Monarch, not so much. I don’t know if it was a straggler from the fall migration, or extra early for the spring. I’m not complaining. The critter was an accommodating subject. The one species I saw frequently that winter, and for a few years to follow, was the Painted Lady, another orange and black butterfly. Besides its smaller size, it has white markings that set it apart from the Monarch. My mom, who was another butterfly lover, died in May 2015. The Painted Lady reminds me of her.

Sometimes, my grief is still a bit raw. Perhaps that’s not very surprising for a suicide survivor. September is Suicide Prevention Month, among other things; a bit of irony I find just too cruel. I will not deny my life has changed in ways I would never choose, were it left up to me. Never the less, I refuse to let my loss completely define me, especially during the month of my birthday. I’m not ashamed of my mom. Far from it. I have suspicions she was beginning to suffer dementia. The last phone conversation I had with her was very alarming, especially since I lived more than 1000 miles away. Most of my anger was directed toward another person, close to both of us, who was warned about her state of mind beforehand; and not just by me, either. It’s been a long journey to arrive where I’m at now, and it will probably always affect me. For most people, regardless how it occurred, the first months of loss are the hardest. Maybe that’s why I kept noticing the Painted Lady butterfly which spent a lot of time in my weedy, overgrown flower bed that winter.

Throughout the ages and across many cultures, butterflies have possessed significant spiritual importance. They are frequently associated with the cycle of birth, death and resurrection; not to mention a representation of the human soul. The Greek goddess, Psyche, wife of Eros, is one embodiment of these beliefs. Though I was aware of the symbolism long before my mom died, until that point, my interest in butterflies was purely artistic and scientific. My spiritual beliefs took a major hit with my mom’s death. She was my guide, and suddenly I had to find the way on my own. Most of us don’t obtain all of our interests by ourselves. We usually share a few of them with those who came before us. My mom loved gardening. Every time I saw my winged visitor, I had the thought if it really was my mom’s spirit, she came to scold me for the neglect of my flower bed. I suppose that’s a weird way to find comfort, but there you have it.

Painted Ladies might seem to be more modest butterflies, compared to their larger cousins. Their white wing and body markings are quite striking, something you only realize with close study. My mom was a modest person whose true beauty became apparent when you spent time with her. I didn’t always agree with her over spiritual matters, and our personalities weren’t exactly the same. I’m neither liberal or conservative, which applies to both my religious and political leanings. My tolerance for bull dung of any kind is quite low, and I’m feisty if someone provides a really good reason to expend the energy. Though my viewpoint may have differed a bit from hers, I respected and admired my mom’s spirit because she always lived her beliefs.

Hard-charging, self-centered, take-no-prisoners kind of people scoff at the Bible’s promise that the meek shall inherit the earth. I challenge all who believe their rights always come first, to adopt the opposite approach for a day. Loving everyone you encounter unconditionally, despite their despicable behavior; and being grateful for the blessings you already have, aren’t so easy, are they? The people who do make a daily effort to live their lives that way, are truly like butterflies in the garden. Encounters with them are beautiful, rare and over far too soon. If you aren’t paying attention to your surrounding environment, you will never see them.

Butterfly colors are given different meanings in the spiritual realm. If they’re true, then I’ve been given a host of different messages, though there is one which is universal. My sightings don’t occur because I’m special. Instead, I pay attention and deliberately look for them. It also doesn’t hurt I give the creatures a reason to visit me. Every time I do see a butterfly, no matter how brief, it always tends to be during a moment when I feel low. To me, they are a reminder my creator has not forgotten me, no matter how bleak life appears. They are also a warning we should never take any of his gifts for granted, starting with creation and ending with salvation.

How we treat our natural world is a part of our salvation. Our desires often tend to be in direct opposition to nature, even though its power over us has been proven more than once. We can’t escape the cosmic consequences of our actions. There is no such thing as six degrees of separation. Everything is connected. In my world, the spiritual and scientific realms are not separate entities. Without our pollinators, of all shapes and sizes, every creature on this earth will eventually die of starvation.

Very little of the original natural world is left now, and continues to be threatened; including the Monarch sanctuary in Mexico. A certain criminal element, run by killers looking to diversify, believes the timber it contains to be more valuable than the butterflies. But the rest of us really aren’t better people than they are, when it comes to the things we value most. Wild creatures need the wild in order to survive. That includes food sources for a creature’s entire life span, and the multiple generations they often produce in a single year.

Monarch butterflies need more than just the occasional milk weed plant in someone’s garden. They also require food sources during their journeys to and from their winter sanctuaries. Anything which benefits them, also benefits other pollinators. Yes, our crops are valuable to both us and the creatures, only they’re insufficient. There isn’t enough diversity and the seasons are simply too short. Native trees and flowering plants are designed to fill the gap. Only we have the bad habit of labeling many of them as weeds, then treat them accordingly.

I admit to a love-hate relationship with Purple Bind Weed. It’s one of the two flowers featured on the background image of my website homepage. It looks and behaves like a morning glory. I promised, on the About Me page, there are stories behind all the images used on my site. The bind weed, along with a Passion Flower vine, took over my flower bed while we were away with the RV a few years ago. Between the two of them, they smothered everything in the bed, including two roses. I took that photo as a reminder that we need to be careful, when choosing who and what we allow into our lives.

The passion flower was a deliberate choice; one I eventually had to eliminate because the aggressive growth escaped my control. Passion fruit requires more time to ripen, so it usually begins blooming earlier in the summer. Since pollinators like it too, I might plant another one someday; provided I can place it in a more appropriate location. The bind weed is a native plant. I’ve been waging war with it for years, trying to keep it from running amok in my yard. This year, I ran out of steam mid-summer. I compromised by allowing it to climb the fence and arbor at the front of my flower bed. In exchange, it had to stay off two roses planted in nearby containers. That meant keeping an eye on it. If it over-reached, I did a bit of pruning.

Starting in late July, the crazy plant began to cover itself with flowers which attracted hummingbirds, butterflies and bees in droves. The timing was spot-on. The plant was taking advantage of both local residents preparing for winter and migrating visitors. In exchange for sparing the bind weed, I received some of my best butterfly sightings to date. It finished blooming about a week ago and is starting to die back. The circle of life is a true miracle. Receiving the privilege to watch it in my own yard only occurred because I made a compromise with nature. I’m certain that plant is now making thousands of seeds. Yeah! The compromises will continue, but only because the reward provides something of great significance to me.

Dedicated gardeners are optimists. They tend to see a bigger picture, including the future. They are already looking toward the coming spring, and many of the plants and trees which sustain our pollinators prefer to be planted any time from late summer through the fall. Even apartment dwellers can enjoy a butterfly container garden. Those who have never planted for pollinators might find a visit to worthwhile. Besides books, they have some beautiful posters in their store and there is at least one on my wish list. There is no better gift we can give to ourselves and those we love, than taking care of the natural world in our immediate vicinity.

03/16/2022 – I took this photo at the beginning of the week. This is my first Giant Swallowtail sighting of the year, and the earliest I have experienced so far. I usually don’t start seeing them until late spring. I got lucky to spot this one shortly after it emerged from its cocoon. It spent more than half an hour sunning itself in some weeds living in a flowerpot. Pulling them is on my growing list of outdoor chores. Now I’m glad the job has been neglected. It’s rare to see most butterflies stay in one place for very long, especially this species. There are two reasons it did on this occasion. The temperature was still a bit chilly, and it felt secure in its hiding place, because I made a point not to disturb it. Here is my tip for spotting Giant Swallowtails. I often see them when I’m doing something not garden related, usually while cleaning parts from my rabbit cages. Like phantoms, I always spot them as fluttering shadows in my peripheral vision first. I stop what I’m doing to study my surroundings and am rewarded with a sighting at least 50% of the time. Those might not seem like very high odds, but it’s better than missing them entirely.