Tell Them They Are Delicate

At bedtime Hannah turned to me and said, “make sure to tell people that butterflies are delicate and you should not pick flowers.” This brings up a very difficult topic for me. What is natural, what is decorative, and how do we preserve the line between the two?

I love flowers in a vase, but it’s true that many wildflowers are going extinct from competition with other invasive non-native plants, as well as weed pulling, pesticides, and yes, over picking in some regions. How do we learn to have a sustainable relationship with the beautiful parts of nature that we love, when they are so fragile?

This butterfly image was taken at the butterfly exhibit in the Smithsonian Institutions Natural History Museum. Several things struck me when we were walking through the exhibit. First, many of the butterflies were endangered species, and I was thinking about the tragedy of butterfly habitats disappearing and these amazing creatures no longer being available for all children to grow up watching. Second, many of the butterflies in the exhibit had sort of crushed wings and were sad looking. Several were trampled on while we were in there, because not all of the people in the exhibit could contain their energy enough to handle the butterflies with delicacy. Later we passed by the hatching window, and it became clear to me that they were constantly cranking out new cocoons in a rapid rotation to keep the butterfly exhibit stocked with new specimens. Somehow the realization that these amazing creatures were being hatched on demand so that a bunch of people could tromp through a little heated room, and ogle the butterflies living in an artificial environment, felt alienating and wrong. It was not nearly as sad as looking into the eyes of a gorilla in the zoo, but there was a sense that the Blue Morpho butterfly shouldn’t be trapped on the third floor of a museum in Washington DC. It should be flying through a free and untainted jungle where it belongs. Then again, how long will it be before the jungles are all contaminated or cut down and the Blue Morphos living in various pretend rainforest climates throughout the museums of the world are the only specimens that remain. Would I wish to never have a Blue Morpho butterfly again, or would I be happy to have the few captive varieties?