Of the many beautiful flowers that were given for Hans’ memorial service, only one is still alive and thriving in our home, an orchid, with its one big showy cluster of purple flowers at the end of a long vine-like stem. After we brought it home from the service, wrapped in plastic to protect it from the January cold, it suffered total neglect for several months, losing its flowers and gathering dust. I thought for sure it was un-saveable.
But, it turns out, an orchid is rather forgiving. I trimmed the yellowed, waxy leaves and gave it a shot of water every week or so. After some months now, it is sporting a new set of leaves and a very grand new cluster of flowers. This exotic bit of tropical rain forest provides a gaudy contrast to the first snow that is falling quietly on the other side of my window.
Around the time of freeze-up, when the summer birds have long deserted us for the south and the leaves have shamelessly abandoned the trees, it is not unusual to find a stray butterfly that has sneaked into the house to avoid the cold. Because they are just butterflies, they do not know they have come into the house to die. If it is still warm enough during the day for them to survive, I will catch them and release them back outside. However, if it is just too cold for butterflies anymore, I will let them remain indoors to spend their last days pouting on our window sill.
I should say here that I do not believe, as some do, that a butterfly encounter is a sign or visit from my son. God controls the creatures in His creation. He can choose to send me a butterfly as a token of His presence and care or He may send some other form of comfort. In Alaska, butterflies are not very reliable for comfort or anything else, especially in winter.
Anyway, this year, since I have the orchid in full bloom, I thought I would give this last summer butterfly a real treat. I splashed some water onto the exposed roots and leaves of the orchid so the butterfly could have some moisture. I carefully picked up the sluggish insect, rather brown and dowdy really, for a butterfly, and placed it gently into the little paradise I had arranged for it. It promptly flew back to the windowsill, preferring the cold and dreary view out the window to the lush tropical resort I had provided indoors.
I tried again, this time setting it right in the center of a flower in full bloom. Here was everything a butterfly could desire at the end of October in Interior Alaska. But she would have none of it. This time, she flew to the window frame and dug her heals into the wood and set her face to the wall.
I check on her every few hours. There she sits, just inches from fresh water and sweet nectar from a gorgeous flower, yet she refuses to partake. She prefers hugging the wall or peering at the cold yesterdays which hide under the snow outside our window. Anything but the joy of the flower.
Maybe she is remembering and longing for the bright summers which are behind her, to which she cannot go back. She, being a doomed butterfly, cannot anticipate the joys of the future. She cannot foresee the continuation of life beyond the window sill. This leaves her in a diminished present that is dull and lifeless and joyless.
Poor, silly butterfly that does not smile. I would never be so foolish.