Showing posts with label butterflies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label butterflies. Show all posts

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Butterfly Muse

“the world hangs on a thin thread, and that thread is the psyche…”
—C.G. Jung

Ice Magic 1
Ice Magic 2

Psyche in the Wake of a Terrible Winter

The Polar Vortex in Patty's World

Most of America has suffered a brutal winter with extreme cold and fierce storms. Patty Cabanas, my publisher, took photos of her frozen world in Oklahoma. In California we’ve had unseasonably warm weather and almost no rain. We are in a serious drought. We feel shaken and uneasy, like Psyche emerging from the underworld, though the fruit trees are blooming and it is warmer than spring. Our climate is changing so rapidly, so dramatically. But on my walk the other day I saw a Monarch butterfly. This raised my spirits.

Monarch in Flight
The butterfly is an ancient symbol of the soul, or the psyche. This is because of its dramatic transfiguration from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to winged glory. Small and fragile as they look, butterflies are amazingly strong and resilient. The Monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles from Canada and the United States to Mexico, dying and being born over several generations as they travel. However they are not strong and resilient enough to withstand climate change and the loss of habitat. Their numbers are in steep decline. This represents a devastating rip in the great web of life.

Monarch Migration

Monarch larvae feed on milkweed. Thanks to powerful herbicides and genetic modification they no longer have enough milkweed to feed on, according to And the California drought doesn’t help either.

What does that say about the thin thread we all hang on? When Jung wrote that phrase he was thinking about the danger we faced in the mid 20th century due to nuclear weapons. Now we’re facing another catastrophe—climate change and the extinction of species. It’s exhausting to look into the dread face of annihilation several times in one lifetime. And yet, as the life cycle of the butterfly demonstrates, transformation happens. I felt my capacity to hope fly free with beating wings when I saw that Monarch and when I learned about a project to help butterflies.

City of Butterflies

Butterfly on Buckwheat

According to multimedia artist Ann Hadlock, Los Angeles is a City of Butterflies. She has worked hard to make this happen through her art and her devotion. Hadlock is raising consciousness about the plight of butterflies, and urging anyone with a patch of garden or an outdoor pot to plant milkweed and other native plants that attract butterflies. She has created pieces focused on California butterflies which will also take form as a documentary entitled Los Angeles: City Of Butterflies. City of Butterflies sounds like an oxymoron. But Hadlock has become an advocate who seems determined to make this happen. Look at her web site and you’ll see her offer to meet you in Silver Lake and bring you a milkweed plant. She posts a list of other endangered butterflies and the covers of books about sustaining wildlife by growing native plants.

She quotes an article in Conservation Biology which argues that,
homeowners are a hugely influential group, locally and nationally, for conservation of plants and animals in this country. This should be empowering and validating for those interested in native plant gardening and wildlife gardening for conservation values…
Collectively, homes across the landscape create an ecosystem. Though it is a highly managed ecosystem, it has the tremendous potential for conservation of our regionally-unique flora and fauna.
Celebrate Spring with a Butterfly Garden

Monarchs in Milkweed

My butterfly wings are all aflutter with this revolutionary idea. It’s the kind of thinking outside our usual boxes that we all need to cultivate. I’m one of those who can get overwhelmed, paralyzed with grief and fear, about our environmental crisis. The thought that there is some small thing we can do that will make a difference to butterflies makes a difference to us humans as well. If we take a break from our distracted driving, e-mail, facebook and twitter, if we go outdoors and plant some buckwheat, or ceonothus, or milkweed, we literally touch the ground of our lives, the earth on which we depend and reconnect with the spirit of the place we inhabit. We nourish our own souls, our own psyches, as well as the larvae of butterflies. As I wrote these words a hummingbird appeared outside my window, the first I have seen this season.

Hummingbird Visitation

Hadlock says she plans to visit Northern California in late May. If any of you are or know butterfly enthusiasts, or have photos of butterflies, she’d love to meet with you. You can contact her at

Spring is the perfect time to plant natives that attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. Dan and I went to our local nursery. We were told that it was too early for milkweed. We should plant that later in the season. But we bought some red buckwheat and dark star ceonothus which are host plants for several kinds of butterflies. Planting them was so good for my butterfly soul.

Butterfly on Ceonothus

Psyche Emerging

May we all have butterflies in our gardens as well as in our psyches. As I worked on this blog posting I suddenly remembered a mysterious dream which became a mysterious poem. I think I understand a little better what Psyche was trying to tell me—butterflies are the stuff of life, as essential as words and cloth.
Psyche Emerging
This Wild Rush of Wings

A woman you have never met     though maybe in a dream
is weaving butterflies into sari cloth     soft piles
of black and yellow monarch wings she’ll wind
around your waist     drape over your left shoulder

And wasn’t there a time when words were stuff to you
the soft stuff of summer dresses
of floating curtains at an open window
the hard stuff of bone and stone tablet

the cut
           of jagged line
                                           the scat of vowels
                                                                       across white space

Such pleasure in the measure of the dance

So why now this late life blast
your one small body barely holding the charge
        given your bird bones
        your fly–away hair
        the necessity of earth holding tight to your feet

Why this long–line longing    the unknown weaver’s head bent
over six yards of butterflies      this demand
from the land of the ancestors     earth’s magnetism
                                         transporting you

(Published in The Faust Woman Poems)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

News from the Muse: The Muse of Sunset and Sasha

It was my friend Sasha who first put the idea into my head:

Birds do it: butterflies do it; Sasha did if for years. Why don’t we to go Mexico in the winter?

That was twelve years ago. Sasha, sadly, is gone. But her yearly ritual of two weeks in the sun by the sea in the slow grace of Mexico has become Dan and my beloved custom.

Sasha Hunter was an unusual member of our Jungian tribe. Unlike most of us, who tend toward introversion and reverie, she was a flaming extrovert who loved to dance and to boogie board. She could turn an earnest gathering into a party. Although we now visit a different Mexican town than her beloved Puerto Escondido, her spirit lives on in the sensual pleasures of our easy days, full of sun worship and ocean walks and margaritas.

Dan and I come to the little fishing village of San Pancho in Nayarit, have now for many years, and the pace of our lives drops down to that primal rhythm of waves, sun, moon and watching pelicans skim the ocean as they fly past. We partake in the sacred ritual of watching the sunset as people have since before we lived in houses.
So Sasha, this blog posting is for you. Your sunset came much too soon. We miss your extravagant spirit. Here are some sunset musings in your memory.

Sunset with Cuban Music

Where there is music in San Pancho you’ll find Dan. Were Sasha still among us she’d be there too, dancing. The lovely beach restaurant, La Playa, has Cuban music tonight. So even though it’s overcast, and a visible sunset seems unlikely, we’re here, having a drink, watching the scene full of dogs and their people.

A group of beautiful young Mexican women arrive, all dressed up—big hoop earrings, short dresses, lots of eye makeup. One of them is carrying a baby girl, maybe four months old—a pink bundle. Another has her two little girls, three and five, with her. The women chat and laugh and drink and pass the baby around, like a treasure. In San Pancho, it seems, girls night out does not require a baby sitter.

Suddenly the clouds at the horizon lift. The sun has already disappeared, but a band of fuchsia light glows on, becoming more and more intense. The young women and their children get up to dance against that stunning backdrop. A flock of egrets flies into the palm trees; the ocean sings her song; dogs bark; the baby waves and the beautiful young women dance with each other, with their babies, with the waiters. The world is awash in beauty and music and dance. Your spirit, Sasha, is with us.

Sunset from the Roof

We stay at Casa Obelisco, a beautiful B&B in San Pancho, full of hibiscus blossoms, bougainvillea, beautiful tile and arches, wonderful people. Sasha, you’d love it here, it’s always a party. From the roof we get a glorious view of the sea and the sun going down. I am always amazed at how various the sunsets are, and how glorious.

Some years ago Henry the Heron used to show up just after sunset. We’d watch him winging his way along the ocean, make a sharp turn right to our roof. He’d sit on a post and keep us company for five or ten minutes watching the colors intensity and fade and then he’d be on his way. Judi, one of our hosts at Casa Obelisco named him, or maybe it was Dan. He was with us for a couple of seasons, and then he was gone. We miss him.

This evening the sun creates a glowing path across the waters to the dark fronds of the palm trees silhouetted before us. There are a few gray and white brush strokes of cloud, but mostly it’s clear. A long
strand of pelicans flies south. As the sun approaches the sea the waves seem to pick up energy, curling their white manes and galloping into the shore. What makes the light change, go suddenly gold while the sea turns a deeper blue? That divine alchemical painter is stirring things up again—color ricochets off the clouds; gold turns to orange casting light upward and suddenly the sun is gone but fuchsia and gold grow more and more intense in the clouds. The palms are so black and so still, in contrast.

Color fades—grays grow grayer, fuchsia and gold turn to pale pink—the sea sighs, the palms brood. We hear crickets; a gecko clucks. That red orange at the horizon does not want to let us go—it keeps glowing while everything darkens around us. We could be sinking into the center of the earth. Sasha, your spirit is with us.

Sunset with Turtle Hatchlings

It’s Dan’s birthday. We’re at La Playa celebrating sunset and Dan. Sasha, how you’d love these Mango
Margaritas and this scene—the sea is ablaze with light and shimmer; two figures at water’s edge seem to merge into one, then become two once again; sun blazed figures carry surfboards along the shining sea.
A spontaneous party has happened. All our fellow guests from Casa Obelisco are here with us. We’ve heard that there is to be a turtle release on the beach just before sunset. And here’s Lauren, La Playa’s hostess, pointing our way down the beach to where a crowd is gathering.

We run across the sand to water’s edge. Tiny turtle hatchlings, no bigger than a baby’s palm, are toddling toward the ocean. One falls into a human footprint and struggles to get out. There are fifty-nine of them, hatched this morning in the special protected turtle nursery created by Turtle Frank and a group of passionate turtle protecting volunteers. They have raised consciousness in San Pancho of the decline in the turtle population. The problem has been people who believe that turtle eggs enhance male potency. Turtle Frank and his helpers educated the children about the magic of turtles. The children educated their parents. The turtle population is coming back.

Turtle Frank is speaking on the beach. He explains that they release the hatchlings before sundown so it’s not too cold for them, but dark enough so the fish can’t see them. Those who survive will swim eight days without stopping or eating; they need to get beyond the current. Some will make it as far as the Philippines or the Galapagos. Some of those (maybe two percent) will find their way back to the beach where they were hatched to lay eggs of their own. We watch as a wave comes, taking some of the babies. “Go for it!” somebody shouts. “Oh no!” Some of the hatchlings are upside down. Turtle Frank and his helpers turn them right side up, send them on their way.

We’ve forgotten about the sun. There it is behind a bank of clouds—a glimmer of glorious color not yet revealed—a golden globe emerging from the cloud—entering the sea like a great glowing mother turtle, checking up on her babies at sea. Sasha, you would have loved to see this. Your spirit is with us.

Here’s a poem I wrote that one year we were in Mexico together, before any of us knew you were ill:

We’ve Come South

for nothing much
but ocean, rocks and sun
for the squeal of a rusty pulley at dawn
for the bugles and drums of the 54th Batallon de Infanteria announcing sunrise

We’ve come south to see nothing much
but the mermaid riding a turtle over the early morning beach
where fishermen dock their boats
full of red snapper, yellow tail, tuna
We’ve come south to do nothing much but walk barefoot on sand
watch the flight of a frigate with scimitar wings
watch an old man ride his burro across the sand
return to our little hotel to see how far Simplissio
has gotten on his mural—
the village the jaguar the woman with the baby on her back
the skeleton the iguana on a tree the mountains the angels in the sky
We’ve come south to celebrate
the descent of the sun every day
pelicans gather
beer drinking northerners gather
children playing ball on the beach gather
to see how gold rims the edges of clouds
how red plunges deep into dark blue
and she opens her body to him and he
looks at her with the eyes of an old sea bird
he is pelican
she is iguana

stirred into the brimming cup

of nothing much
and we who have been together
life after life
know this in our bodies
We’ve come south to drink
our fill