The butterfly, symbol of hope in the darkest of days

February was foul. It was the wettest February the UK has ever seen, and the fifth wettest UK month, of any month on record, ever. Large areas of the country experienced unprecedented floods, and although Platypus Towers escaped this particular fate – living halfway up a hill helps! – it was pretty damned miserable. But as George Harrison famously reminded us, all things must pass, and around 6 March the sun finally shows up, giving it large in a dazzling, clear blue sky.

To celebrate our change in fortunes, I decide to treat Attila the Bun to an enormous carrot. I’m standing at the door to his hutch, fondling his ears while he tucks in greedily, and out of the corner of my eye I catch sight of my first butterfly of the year.

The symbolism isn’t lost on me. The transformation of caterpillar into butterfly is one of Nature’s most dazzling tricks. It speaks of redemption, the possibility of change, and the enormous potential that lies within the most unpromising of subjects. Nothing is so ugly that it cannot re-fashion itself into a thing of beauty, nothing is so damaged that it cannot be made whole again, nothing is so stained that metamorphosis cannot restore it to purity.

The butterfly in question is a Small Tortoiseshell. She sits atop some pure white heather blossom, sucking up the nectar, soaking up the rays. Intent upon her business, she allows me to approach and stand so close I could reach out and touch her. The predominant colour of her wings is a foxy reddish-orange, decorated with a scatter of black and yellow splodges and an edging of tiny, bright blue spots. She is so delicate, so beautiful.

My butterfly has overwintered as an adult, hunkered down somewhere sheltered, perhaps a garden shed or a farm outbuilding. For months her metabolism has barely ticked over, but today she’s awake and has a job to do. Now is her time, and with temperatures rising and the days growing longer she must find a mate, and a patch of stinging nettles on which to lay her eggs.

Her children will take to the wing in June and July, and they in turn will produce another generation in late summer. It is that generation, the grandkids of the butterfly before me, that will emulate her by seeking out a sheltered hiding place in which to hibernate through the winter.

As with pretty much every species of butterfly in the UK, Small Tortoiseshells have declined massively in recent decades. Growing up in suburban London half a century ago I used to see them in abundance, and although not rare these days I wouldn’t describe them as plentiful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one this early in the year so today’s sighting is definitely a bonus, as well as being a welcome indication that spring is waking from its slumber at last.

Eventually, my butterfly decides it’s time to share her ethereal beauty with another lucky soul. Sorrowfully I watch her leave, and wish her well on her journey. I will miss her. Butterflies are a symbol of hope, and god knows we need hope in these, the darkest of days.

10 comments

  1. sinharishika · March 18

    So true -we need hope and positivity. Keep safe

    Liked by 1 person

  2. tanjabrittonwriter · March 19

    Encounters like these can be so meaningful and comforting. I wish you many more of these comforting and hopeful encounters.
    Best wishes,
    Tanja

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 19

      There’s lots of talk at the moment about the health benefits – particularly benefits to mental health – of getting close to nature. However our government is (understandably) advising that people avoid all but essential travel while the virus tightens its grip. So it’s gratifying when nature visits us in our own back yard. The weather’s cooled since I wrote this post so I’ve not seen any more butterflies. But soon, hopefully … 🦋
      Best wishes to you and your family in these difficult times.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter · March 19

        Thank you for the good wishes.
        I hope that time off work with children at home will bring many families back to nature. Yesterday at a park, I saw many more such groups as usual. Maybe more people will realize what they have missed all this time.
        All the best,
        Tanja

        Liked by 1 person

  3. shazza · March 19

    I saw my first butterfly of the year today. It fluttered by too quickly for me to id but i think it may have been a small tortoishell. I have a nature journal and the first butterfly I saw in 2019 was one too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 20

      It’s always a welcome milestone, the first butterfly of the year. Small tortoiseshells are usually the first species I see. Hopefully a brimstone will also put in an appearance within the next two or three weeks.

      Like

  4. blhphotoblog · March 24

    So far 2 Brimstones a Peacock and Comma. Today, first day of lockdown, the weather looks promising. The camera is at the ready.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 24

      You’ve done well! I’ve seen several more Small Tortoiseshells today, but nothing more exotic than that. Great weather for butterflies so I hope some more will drop in to say hi. Oh, to be a butterfly … no lockdowns for them.

      Liked by 1 person

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