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Poor Will's Almanack: April 7 - 13, 2020

comma butterfly
Marilyn Peddle
Flickr Creative Commons

By this week of the year, butterflies can emerge on the warmest days, and I am on the lookout for a particular orange butterfly, a Polygonia, to be exact.

I first saw him on Christmas morning when I got up about 5:00 and listened to the wind and rain drive against the southeast corner of the house.

After an hour or so, the storm let up, the gusts continuing for a while more, and then by sunrise, all was quiet. I went outside on the covered back porch to check the temperature: almost 50 degrees. That’s when I noticed a butterfly, a polygonia perched on the head of the small stone crucifix one of my sisters had given the family some years ago.

Now I knew that this butterfly belonged to a hibernating species, and spent the winter here as an adult.  It was, I reasoned, no great surprise that the unseasonable wind and the rain had forced it from its retreat.

But I am a wavering and superstitious Christian, easily swayed by signs and sacraments, and so the appearance of the Polygonia on a crucifix in the wake of a freak rainstorm on Christmas morning was bound to trigger some uneasiness of spirit.

Was it a messenger from my Irish Catholic ancestors? Was it one of those minute “butterfly effect” variables that might influence the entire weather of the world? Was this the butterfly whose wings would set off tsunamis and cyclones in the Indian Ocean? Was it an Isaiah of global warming? 

Whatever its meaning or mission, it remained on the cross for three days, finally disappearing on a night when the temperature reached 16 degrees. Still, I struggle with his appearance, his epiphany, so to speak, wondering just what it was I had been shown and had been expected to see.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the third week of Middle Spring. In the meantime, watch for an orange butterfly. Maybe it has something to tell you.

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Bill Felker has been writing nature columns and almanacs for regional and national publications since 1984. His Poor Will’s Almanack has appeared as an annual publication since 2003. His organization of weather patterns and phenology (what happens when in nature) offers a unique structure for understanding the repeating rhythms of the year.