by Melissa Brotton | 05 September 2023 |
“Your comforts delight my soul.” (Psalm 94:18b, NKJV)
Science is telling us that one of nature’s most precious gifts is a tranquil and sound mind, something we’ve known intuitively for a long while.
This truth hit home to me in late spring of this year. As the weeks of summer emerged, I gradually became aware that a certain butterfly was visiting my yard. Each day, one particular monarch was on a circuitous route through three neighboring yards and my own. Soaring over my south corner fence-line and lighting on the purple cones of a butterfly bush, he would linger a bit and visit a nearby flowering vine, then wing his way in undulating form across the yard only to disappear over the opposite fence-line. I could almost count the minutes before he would reappear on the south end.
He was having the time of his life, gamboling on air, fluttering over flowers, moving his wings in methodic pleasure while feeding. Sometimes he would appear with another monarch, and with grace the two would circle each while traveling across the yard, tuned in to a silent music all their own.
I began doing research on monarchs and discovered their four-part cycle of migration and how wintering monarchs can live as long as nine months. I learned how to identify the sex of monarchs by inspecting a certain pattern on their wings. At some point, it became evident that this male monarch had lost all fear of being near me. Each day he would fly low over my head.
As I walked around the yard, he took no pains to skirt out of my path and would brush right by me. He allowed me to get close to take photos and even put on spontaneous air shows in my presence. It was as if he had imprinted on me. How hadn’t I noticed?
As the days grew warmer, I began to turn on a mister in the back yard to assist him when he flew closer to the ground. His typical flight level was about ten feet, but during warmer days, he’d drop to about three feet. He learned quickly what the mister could do and then trained me to turn it on for him. He’d circle around the mister head. That was my cue. I’d rush to the front of the house to turn on the water. It was delightful to watch him swoop through the mist and circle around to do it again, like a kid running through a sprinkler.
One evening, I’d been enjoying one of these shows. As I turned to go back inside the house, I paused and looked over my shoulder only to see a spectacular scene of air acrobatics, my monarch and his companion closely whirling around each other, spiraling upward in an entrancing ballroom dance.
“How beautiful!” My neighbor Letty had stopped by to help me pick nectarines. Her exclamation came just as my monarch flitted by, nearly grazing my arm. He took me by surprise. Several weeks had passed since I’d last seen my little friend. I’d nearly given up on him. Now, here he was again, wings paled to light gold, as happens when monarchs age and lose their colorful wing scales. He seemed a bit erratic, though, and low to the ground, like he was putting out his last best effort. I dashed to the front to turn on the mister for him and returned just in time to see him take one final dive over the fence, out of sight. I waited for a long time to see him return, but he never did.
I remember him whenever I see a flitting shadow on the ground. A sweetness rushes over me, as if something beautiful is about to happen. I hope to remember the age-old lesson he unwittingly shared. How much pith he took moment by moment out of life is impossible to calculate. By his simple acts of relishing of each instant of his fleeting life, he showered more bliss into mine than I could have believed possible. It was nature’s air-lecture on how just one life can spark joy in others simply by pouring his all into his daily business. What could happen if I poured half as much joy into each aspect of my work? Such practice could change mere tasks into life-changing ministry.
Until this summer, I never realized that an insect could extend such intelligent friendship to a human. He seemed to me a remnant of lost Eden, his quiet being floating over my head in simple trust. It was the purest form of friendship, each of us asking nothing more than to marvel in each other’s company.
How unlikely that this tiny traveler, a mere flash of color across the sky, could bring such treasure to me. This gift was not the spirit of a departed loved one or a mystic harbinger of fate about to change. Just a simple reminder of the goodness of my Creator, the God who delights in his own work. “The skies display his craftsmanship” (Psalm 19:1b). How wonderful is our God to endow such a magnificent gift of giving on such a tiny creature. What an irony that through a single small, bright thing, such love flows out to humans. My monarch taught me that unexpected delight can spring out of nowhere and endure for more than a season. Most importantly, he taught we can expect to find daily evidence of God’s love if we simply take a look around us. It is always present. In multiple fleeting moments this summer, and though one of his smallest creatures, God lifted my spirits to great heights.
Melissa Brotton teaches writing and literature courses at La Sierra University. Her special areas are nineteenth-century British literature and religious studies. She has published on the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Biblical ecology. She spends a lot of time outdoors, paints, and writes nature stories and poems.