Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Tomorrow or Today
I wrote this tomorrow because there is no time like the future for knowing what was best to do today. Tomorrow I knew this mourningcloak butterfly emerged at sunset and so I made sure I walked out the door in time to see it clutching its pupal shell as its chocolate wings expanded and dried in the evening air.
Tomorrow there were plenty of these butterflies, not so common at all in the recent past around here, flying through looking for mates or rivals in the thick sunny space over my driveway. One of these was this butterfly, the one that came out this evening gloriously perfect until a rival male rammed it with a soft yet audible full-body blow. Or, one of these was this butterfly that emerged this evening a virgin until she rose with the winning male in a spiraling dance over the melaleuca clouds then settled with him on a branch to mate tomorrow. Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, or the day after that, eggs ensue and the case of the mourningcloak butterflies continues as long as there are elm trees with leaves, and sunshine to warm the wings, and nectar or tree sap to eat and high places to perch, and just enough luck or camouflage to evade enough of the predators.
The day before yesterday a predator made a meal of another mourningcloak pupa that had sheltered on the siding of my house 14 days ago, leaving behind the last abdominal segment, the hook and the silk pad. The camouflage of the pupa, designed to look very much like tree bark, didn't work here against the bright new blue of my house. If I had posted this on Sunday but still written it tomorrow I could have been forewarned to take action to protect this too-obvious pupa from harm and so might have celebrated two butterfly emergences on Earth Day. But a very large percentage of butterflies are by nature destined not to make it. Then some more are done in by actions of humans. Was I to blame for the death of this one by choosing to paint the house such a bright and shiny blue? By washing away the disguising pattern of dirt, webs and bird poo? Next time the chenilles march the wall will be duller as the diminishing suns and seasons pass by, and dirtier as the spiders and birds do their worst. Next time if a caterpillar chooses my house siding . . . well, who knows? Can we really learn from experience or is nature at once too vast and too seemingly random to anticipate?
Anyway. Earth Day is everyday so of course it doesn't matter that today was tomorrow or even the Sunday just past. We still ponder whether to put the orange peels into the green waste or the cans with labels into the recycling. We still doubt whether our fair city actually sorts and recycles the stuff anyway. Butterfly populations ebb and flow; this year is a good one for mourningcloaks especially but also others. I've seen clouded sulphurs, painted ladies, giant swallowtails, cabbage whites, fiery skippers, funereal duskywings, tiger swallowtails and monarchs, and it's just April. Wow. Is that a good thing or is it a manifestation of population or phenological shifts due to climate change? Tomorrow we will know, and maybe know what to do today about it. For now, cheesy haiku ensues.
The grievance once went:
and carbon piled up
The argument runs:
My product's greener than yours
while glaciers dissolve
Talk does continue:
as species lose their cases
and the earth spins on