Almanack Essays: Waiting for Butterflies

The other night, the wind blew hard across the village. I lay awake for a while and worried about the aging Osage orange falling into the shed or crushing Jeanie’s favorite redbud tree, maybe reaching the new porch and taking out the past summer’s work.

This morning before sunrise I am sitting on that porch; we all survived the storm unscathed. The sky is clear deep blue. The robins have been singing for more than an hour; cardinals and doves just joined in a few minutes ago. Now the shining grackles come through the high trees, gliding from their secret nests; cackling and clucking, they move down among the black branches.

When I first came outside, I looked for light frost on the grass, but the lawn was wet and dark. Now it reflects the glow in the east behind me. The air is humid and still. Crows call to the west, and I hear the crows I hunted as a child in Wisconsin. They were wily, untouchable crows, and they watched me from high cottonwoods until I stepped within maybe a city block of them, and then up they went screaming.

I open the journal of the monk and author Thomas Merton that I have been reading this past week, captured by his journey toward death. It is still too dark to make out the words. I think about one of the things Peter Matthiessen learned from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, that “a man’s last thoughts will determine the quality of his reincarnation.” I am coming to the last year of Merton’s life. I want to see what he was like in those last days. I want to read his last thoughts. Of course, my own last days and thoughts are what really concern me.

But when it is finally light enough to read, I am taken in a different direction. I am pulled by the sunlight spreading down the locust trees that line the far edge of the property. I close the journal, and I watch and wait for cabbage butterflies and the first bees.

Bill Felker

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *