Meeting the Butterflies

A. Christine Myers
5 min readAug 28, 2019
Papilio memnon, the Greater Mormon, photograph © the author

We enter the butterfly enclosure through a curtain of large, light chains painted white. There are doors behind and before.

And perhaps this unusual start, setting the stage for visiting such unusual creatures, is somehow an appropriate entrance for a display of tropical butterflies. Certainly it is so from a practical perspective, as its purpose is to protect the butterflies from escaping into a more extreme climate than the conservatory in which they were raised. So we step in under and through the chains, through the inner door, and into the room with them.

The first thing I notice is that there are not a great many butterflies immediately visible. A fair number of humans — one couldn’t miss the humans — but not butterflies. As I begin to step around the space the latter appear slowly, becoming visible as one’s eyes become more quiet. There they are, clinging upside down to tree branches, perched on various food sources carefully laid out for them, and occasionally winging their way across the spaces between.

I try to slow down among the mill of people, quietly watch, catch the pace of these creatures, so much larger than any I have seen in my garden. The crowd is not fast; it is gentle among the butterflies, fascinated. There are many photographers, some with little smartphone cameras, some with professional gear. They are quiet, but it is a room full of people, people trying to see the butterflies.

I lean closer to the trees and flowers to see them myself. They remain stationary, many half-concealed, ignoring the people all round them.

There they are. Flashes of blue in the shadows. The soft dip and flare of sooty wings in mid-air. A spark of red on bright flowers. A gleam of silver opening, closing, opening. A flash of pattern like the spots in a peacock’s tail, or the eyes in a snake’s head as it whisks through the trees.

And yet. And yet…

I find myself remembering the bright days of late autumn in my garden in Arizona. Days when Monarchs and Queen butterflies came drifting through, ecstatic to find a bank of lantana or a big shrub of lavender in bloom as they made their way southward for winter.

I am no butterfly whisperer — just a gardener and an amateur photographer — but I learned then to lower…