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The Day’s Delight: Painted Ladies

I took a walk in the woods by myself today. The river ran below me, loud at the cliff and muted in the trees. Gullies gurgled with the scant melt of this unusually dry spring. The painted lady butterflies were out in thick clusters– or, at least they looked decadent to me after their absence all winter.

I like that painted ladies come out so early. And I like that whenever I see a pack of them I know that these elegant, beautiful, ephemeral harbingers of spring… are eating shit.

They were– probably (hopefully!) a dog duece that had rolled down the bank of a run-off stream. I crouched down to watch, waiting for them to return. (Whenever I see butterflies or moths flying, spiraling, I think of Barbara Kingsolver’s “Prodigal Summer:” the most sensuous book I’ve ever read, including the part about moth flight.)

I like that these first bright bursts of color– orange and black and brown– aren’t sipping nectar from fresh spring flowers. The flowers aren’t here yet, though I might have helped will them into being just by the visceral force of last year’s memory: hepatica as far as the eye could see, a gentle, hopeful, sweet fragrance everywhere you went.

No, these beauties feast on the filth, the leftovers, the waste that is left behind. That’s the magic of the wild, of nature, of the truth: old shit makes good soil. The thing that makes you wrinkle your nose is the very thing that makes every delight possible.

I watched the painted ladies for a while, then hiked on, lighter– or perhaps just reminded, tromping in the mud and last treacherous ice, I was in good company.


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