What the butterfly means to me today

Queen Butterfly
Queen Butterfly

When I lived on Haida Gwaii (an archipelago in Northern Canada) I once attended a cultural awareness workshop. One of the lessons was a hands-on activity involving Haida art.

After first showing me how I clenched  the pencil as though it were a weapon, the instructor explained to us how all the iconic images we recognize from the cultures of the Pacific Northwest Coast are more than decorative. They hold meaning and are cultural property. One family might own the rights to the image of the Eagle; another family might own the Raven. To use these images without permission is worse than insulting.

As far as I know an image the Haida people have allowed non-indigenous people to use is the butterfly. An interesting gift. This creature does represent how the descendants of settlers tend to interact with the land. Doesn’t our culture’s emphasis on consumption and the terrible greed of some members not resemble the appetite of a caterpillar? Even our spirituality tends to be flighty rather than earthy. But without the hope that we can change or transform into something else there can only be despair. So yes. The butterfly is a welcome image and one we could aspire to own. We may yet learn to be a beautiful people with lighter footprints.

The butterfly is one of those insects people seem to universally love; the ladybug, the dragonfly, and firefly also belong in that same category. These are common and familiar gateway insects that led many of us as children into a greater appreciation of the natural world. Some of us have been inspired to go further than mere appreciation. We actively invite their presence into our world by planting native flowers, caring for our soil and doing what we can to make the world a better place.

I think I’ll end this post with an infectious ear-worm from Firefly that just popped into my head:

Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don’t care, I’m still free
You can’t take the sky from me.

And the confession that I still tend to clench my pencil. Some habits are harder than others to replace.

But cheers to a world where butterflies still fly. And to Donna at Living from Happiness who must be part muse. Her post “Wildlife Lessons — Butterflies” got me thinking about butterflies today on this coldest day of the year. If you don’t know her blog please check it out for truly beautiful ideas and photos.

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18 thoughts on “What the butterfly means to me today

  1. Too often I’ll allow my attention to be captured without stopping to realize why or without taking that attention any further than idle admiration in the moment. Your words remind us that we should not only admire butterflies but take the lessons they teach us to heart.

    That applies to your blog as well you know. Along with the beauty present here, there is (always!) a gentle lesson to guide us yet another step further along from our unexamined assumptions. Thank you!

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  2. And thank goodness we no longer feel the need to capture butterflies, kill them and stick pins through them to display them as our great grandparents did.
    My grandmother had a real butterfly’ s wing brooch. Even as a child I thought that it would look better on a butterfly.
    I feel optimistic about them, I saw more of them here last year than I have seen for a long time.

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    1. I love how the Guardian always features butterflies every summer. In a way I get to know your butterflies as though they were here. I always thought insect collections were gruesome. Seeing them always freaked me out.

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  3. Yes. butterflies are special as are the other insects you listed. We view them in such a happy and delightful way. I hope in years to come they still flutter with delight.

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  4. Debra thank you for the shout out. I am so pleased you enjoyed my post…I love your story here…perfect aspiration, ‘We may yet learn to be a beautiful people with lighter footprints.’

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