Blue Morpho butterfly
I am currently most of the way through reading There is a Season by
British Columbia author Patrick Lane.
Gifted me by my good friend Barry Olshen, it is an absorbing read. The author
writes in haunting detail of the demons of life that he has struggled with, but
a deep appreciation of beauty experienced through reverence for his garden and the act of
gardening shines through the book. I was captivated to read the following,
published in the Globe & Mail, on July 5, 2013:
Patrick Lane remains
one of ’s
most celebrated poets. Last week, he was named to the Order of Canada .
And last month he was awarded an honorary degree by the Canada University
of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus
in Kelowna – particularly meaningful since the
school is just down the road from ,
where Vernon Mr. Lane
grew up and spent his early years scrounging a living. In his address to the
convocation, he spoke powerfully of those tough, formative years and, in
particular, of an extraordinary incident that has affected his life ever since.
It taught him the value of beauty. When he finished, there was silence,
followed by rapturous applause.
Back in early December of 1958, I was 19 years old, living with my wife and baby boy in a two-room apple picker’s shack a few miles down the road from here. I had a job driving dump truck for a two-bit outfit that was working on a short stretch of highway just down the hill from where this university was built so many years later. I remember leaving the shack and walking out to stand by the highway in the wind and snow. I stood there shivering in my canvas coat as I waited to be picked up by the grader operator in his rusted pickup truck. The sky was hard and grey. Its only gift that winter day was ice disguised as a fragile, bitter snow.
As I stood there in the false dawn, I looked up for a moment and as I did an iridescent blue butterfly the size of my palm fluttered down and rested on the sleeve of my coat just above my wrist. It was winter, it was cold and I knew the
where I had lived most of my
young life did not harbour huge, shiny blue butterflies, not even in summer. I
remember stripping off my gloves and cupping the insect in my hands, lifting
that exquisite creature to the warmth of my mouth in the hope I could save it
from the cold. I breathed upon the butterfly with the helplessness we all have
when we are faced with an impossible and inevitable death, be it a quail or
crow, gopher, hawk, child or dog. I cupped that delicate butterfly in the
hollow of my hands and ran back to the picker’s shack in the hope that somehow
the warmth from the morning fire in the woodstove might save it, but when I
reached the door and opened my hands, the butterfly died. Okanagan Valley
I do not know what strange Santa Anna, Squamish or Sirocco jet-stream wind blew that sapphire butterfly from far off
Congo or the Philippines
to this valley. I only know the butterfly found its last moments in my hands. I
have never forgotten it and know the encounter changed me. There are mornings
in our lives when beauty falls into our hands and when that happens, we must do
what we can to nurture and protect it. That we sometimes fail must never
preclude our striving. The day the beautiful creature died in my hands, I
looked up into the dome of the hard, cold sky and I swore to whatever great
spirit resided there in the dark clouds that I would live my life to the full
and, above all, I would treasure beauty. I swore, too, that I’d believe in
honesty, faithfulness, love and truth. The words I spoke were the huge
abstractions the young sometimes use, but I promised them to myself and, now,
more than half a century later, I stand here in front of your young minds, your
creative spirits, your beautiful lives, and I can tell you that I have tried.
I told myself that year and in the subsequent years in the sawmill crews and construction gangs I worked with that I would become a writer, a poet, a man who would create an imagined world out of the world I lived in, that I would witness my life and the lives of others with words. The years went by filled with the tragedies and losses that all our lives are filled with. My brother’s early death, my father’s murder, my divorce and the loss of my children did not change the promises I made. There were times I lived a dissolute, irresponsible and destructive life. There were times, too, when I was depressed and wretched, but I continued to believe in spite of my weaknesses and fears. I wandered the world and as I did I wrote of the lives that shared my times. And I wrote of this
, its lakes and hills, its stones,
cacti, cutthroat trout, magpies, rattlesnakes and, yes, its butterflies. Okanagan Valley
What I have told you is a story. It arose from my life for where else but from a life can a story come? What I promise each of you is that there will come a day or night, a morning or evening when something as rare and fine as a blue sapphire butterfly will fall into your hands from a cold sky, a fearful child will climb into your bed and cleave to you, a woman or man will weep, will laugh, will sleep with you in the sure belief that the one they abide with is governed by a good and honest love. No matter the degrees you have earned and the knowledge you have accumulated, remember to believe in yourselves, to believe in each other. In a world as fearful as our present one, I ask that you not be afraid. Today is merely an hour. Remember in the time ahead of you to hold out your hands so that beauty may fall safely into them and find a place – however briefly – to rest.