On the second day of Little Butterfly’s stay with us, we drove to the nature center in search of a butterfly naturalist (yes, living in a metropolitan area has its advantages). The retired lady staffing the information desk looked at me a little strangely, but I kept a serious expression on my face and lifted the boys up so she could see that this was a teaching moment. It went something like this:
We’d like to speak to a butterfly naturalist.
Someone who knows what to do about butterflies.
We have a butterfly show …
Yes, but we have a butterfly. A new baby butterfly, and we need to know if it’s warm enough to release her yet, and, if not, what we should feed her.
(seeing the boys) I see. That’s a serious question indeed. Let me see if I can call the butterfly expert and let you talk to her. (talks on phone) She’d be happy to see you all.
An hour or so later, after navigating the trails to the conservatory, we knocked on the door. An honest-to-goodness butterfly naturalist came out and spoke to us — two moms, three preschoolers, and a baby — and helped us understand what to do for her.
She said, “Trust nature.”
(She also said that her wings likely hadn’t had a chance to form properly if she was touched so soon after crawling out of the chrysalis, and that she would be bird food, but birds need to eat too, and … thankfully the kids had wandered off to the water fountain at this point. I was not teaching a lesson about death here, my friends, but of treasuring life.)
Later that afternoon, with Stimey and our five boys, the time came to release her into the wild. We helped her gently climb onto a piece of stiff paper and carried her outside, the queen of our little procession, shielded even from the wind.
We found a beautiful place to release her, with lots of the forsythia flowers that she had supped on in our home. I had to help her off the paper, extending my finger for her to rest on, and then gently held her near the forsythia.
When she was ready, she grabbed on to the branch and held on with all her might.
We stopped to watch for a moment, as she unfurled her wings and showed us that she was all right after all. She had been found in time. Her butterfly wings had dried overnight in her warm terrarium, and she was ready to go.
We didn’t want her to leave us. We didn’t want to have to say goodbye.
But we had done all we could for her, so we slowly walked away.