“I like the numbers, the big numbers. More is better. More butterflies are better than fewer butterflies. A river of butterflies is a wonderful thing. Millions of butterflies are the jackpot. I like the largesse, the almost casual gesture, as if a generous earth were whispering into my ear, “See how I replenish myself, see how I birth and birth and birth and darken the skies and fill the waters and cover the ground and still I have more to give.” – ‘An Obsession with Butterflies,’ Sharman Apt Russell
I spy sex, right outside my window. Fornication abounds, close to the ground, there among the pert daffodils and shy daisies, up above each arching stem, deep within the abyss of tulips. No curtains are drawn, no hushed tones required…this sex is on display, for all to see. The world bursts with sex now, and frankly, it is beautiful to behold. The soft, dewy petal – just by its shape, its smell, even its degree of firmness – indicate to the pollinators of the world: Here I am…I’m fertile…let’s copulate! The Flora dancing seductively outside your window, wooing you with their vibrant hues, are not just artistic showstoppers. They’re downright sexy. “Many pollinators are visually oriented. Something catches their eye. They make a decision to come over. A showy display of flowers is a long-distance flag, attracting butterflies from far away. Once the pollinator is up close, the plant needs to send another signal showing which flowers to probe…” This is why flowers burst into titillating color, then fade, then wilt. With artistic clarity, they signal their degree of fertility for everyone to see and enjoy.
And we, the people, soak it up. Shades of coral, fuchsia, butterscotch, and plum quiver in the sunlight, like scantily clad women luring us from the TV screen with bright lipstick, shiny earrings, even sequined bras. Flora use their sweet smells, bold colors, and lush, ‘open for business’ petals.
It’s a heady thing, this scent of spring, this song of sex. We are creatures, after all, attuned to respond. “When he finds her, he will flutter, and she will flutter, and sweet pheromones will scent the air. Even a human passing at the right moment might pause and sniff, and sniff again. Honeysuckle? Lavender? Jasmine? The pheromones of butterflies have long co-evolved with the sexy scent of flowers promising food and drink (the flowers desiring sex, too) and we have long since taken these scents for ourselves, for our perfumes, and our colognes, for our own longing.”
We are just creatures, after all. Desiring food and sex, attracted by beauty, acting instinctually….like every other species that graces this globe.
I, myself, am particularly wooed by Spring. I want to photograph all of the flora and fauna, the exotic shapes, the swirls of improbable colors flashing from unexpected places. Which is why, for my birthday not long ago, I requested a fairy walk, wherein my twins would don fairy wings, and we would walk somewhere lush and lovely.
The morning of, my girls wanted no part of that. “You always want to go on fairy walks,” they whined. “Can’t we do something else that’s fun, like go to Baskin Robbins?” Juliet suggested.
“How about if we go on just a girl walk?” Katriel declared. “Where we don’t have to brush our hair or teeth, or wear fairy wings, but we’ll stop and pose once in a while, ok?”
I grumbled over this, and stayed insistent, until we finally reached an agreement of sorts: no fairy walk this time, but instead a Butterfly Picnic…how fun! My girls willingly donned butterfly wings, and off we flew, to Discovery Park, where wouldn’t you know, every single person who passed us by stopped to smile, visibly enchanted. Old, young, male, female, it didn’t matter….the human species indeed seems wowed by butterflies!
As we perched on our blanket there in the sunlight, eating pears and chocolate, sipping juice boxes, I watched these growing girls, my beautiful butterflies. Both seemed eager to get up and move, far from ‘mom’ and ‘dad’, as if they needed to float free, away across the shimmering hills, towards a destiny only they could see.
The afternoon passed, and I felt a bit melancholic. The picnic was beautiful, but I was yet another year older and slowing down, while my littles were growing up and soaring ahead… suddenly too big for fairy walks, eager to finish the butterfly picnic and dart off towards the future.
I came home and stared out the window glumly. Where had the time gone? Here I had birthed and birthed and birthed these beautiful babies – five beautiful little butterflies – and they were all flying away. My most cherished gifts to this world aloft on the breeze.
I wandered to the computer, peered at the news headlines, then went back to gazing out the window. Everywhere I saw, heard, felt sex. Rape cases in the news; legislation aimed at curtailing women’s reproductive choices passing in state legislatures, day by day, state after state; even the size of Kim Kardashian’s ass..charted, headlined, documented inch by burgeoning inch.
I journeyed outside, to stand beneath the cherry blossoms; bent low to peer into a half-closed purple tulip; watched as the daffodils raised their yellow and orange trumpets closer to the sun daily. I thought of how my nature walks were really ‘sex’ walks, and no matter anyone’s ‘morals’, we’re all just mammals, driven by the realities and repercussions of sexual activity like any other creature.
Later on, I curled up on the couch and read of the life cycle of the butterfly – its humble beginnings as not much more than a bag of goo – singularly, ravenously hungry. How each lowly caterpillar must navigate and survive five distinct, dangerous growth spurts, known as ‘instars’, before it can even become a chrysalis.
But then – metamorphosis! The stuff of legend, myth, lore. And at its core, pure cellular reconfiguration – morphing, rearranging, sloughing away, acquiring anew. “From the beginning, cells in the caterpillar have been preparing the way, genes flicking on and off…Bang. clang, rebound! This is pinball wizardry, chaos controlled, nothing random. The simple larval eyes dissolve. The butterfly’s complex compound eyes grow from other cells. Legs lengthen and add segments. New muscles develop, some for flight. The huge, dominant stomach shrinks. The sexual organs appear…”
As I read I realize that I, too, have experienced metamorphosis, four times: my cells reconfigured, duplicated, merged…my basic DNA recomposed into new creatures, different than myself. I, too, have experienced an astounding life change, whereby forever after I wander the world with protective wings ready to beat against the wind. I, too, have been transformed, with seemingly new antennae poking from my head, sensing, feeling, seeing landmarks I never cared to heed before. Just like the butterfly, I’ve morphed into a new, more complex creature.
This is the consequence of sex, which females bear alone. For the rest of her life, she is a creature metamorphosed.
Men are biologically free from most repercussions of sex, (unless you are talking about STD’s, which I’m not). In fact, men are free to copulate then fly far, far away and never look back. In many cases, men do.
For men who stick around, rarely do they suffer any day-to-day, real-life consequences of copulation (I dare say most of them don’t even have to wash the sheets!). There is only one place I know of where men can actually be seen to feel the weight of sex, and that is at the doctor’s office on ‘Vasectomy Day’. Nowhere else on Earth has a happier, downright giddy group of human females gathered. We women flip through magazines and slurp on giant Diet Cokes, while our men sit completely rigid, eyes straight ahead, glazed, dazed, oozing fear out every pore. We women don’t care in the slightest. We smile. We give each other covert thumbs-ups. The brazen among us snap a photo or two. Ha, ha, ha, now this is the life! imaginary thought-bubbles above our heads scream. Look at these men – sissies, all of them – scared stiff. At long, long last they know what it’s like for us, time after time, waiting endlessly to be probed, lubed, wanded, splayed open, even cut open by nonchalant, egotistical men…
Inside the ‘Vasectomy Room’ there is no small talk between doctor and patient. Your partner, now just a ‘male species’, spreads himself out on the operating table like a butterfly in a case, each leg bent at the knee and spread to the side, arms pinned overhead, chin up, eyes closed. While the female species, oddly free and unburdened, sits in a vinyl side chair, flipping through House Beautiful, then People, all while smiling quietly to herself, there among the smell and sizzle of cauterised flesh.
The reality is that sex is no easy game to play. For most species, sex is literally life and death. So it goes for the beautiful butterfly. “Apollo butterflies have…abandoned the niceties. Males grab females in flight or capture them on the ground, finding virgins by smell as they hide in the grass. These females have external genitalia that are easy to access by force. After mating, the male secretes and glues a structure called a sphragis over the female’s abdomen, a much more rigid and complex device than the small internal mating plug (that some other species utilize). This chastity belt is meant to last a life-time. It is an extraordinary burden to carry around – heavy, awkward, and in the way of laying eggs…”
I read these words in stunned amazement. It dawns on me that my hopes for more progressive female reproductive choices now seem comical indeed. Women will never, ever see the day when men are willing to give up control over our reproductive fate, our basic sexual freedoms. Not when the biological scale is so heavily tipped in their favor. “Male apollos still attempt to capture mated females as well as virgins. Young mated females try to fly away or, failing that, struggle with their attackers. An older female is more passive and waits motionless as the male attempts to remove her sphragis. Many females have scarring around their abdomens where the male’s needle-sharp penis has slipped and cut them.”
To learn that some species of butterflies have diaphragms, and that male butterflies force these on them…well, I am speechless. As if I had just scanned the news headlines, I am shocked by the continuing and unabashed male domination of women, not only among human males, but among males of many species. I wonder at the brutal aspect of mere anatomy, too, as not only do these males imprison the females, they then fight to remove the chastity belts of torture by slashing these poor females with their ‘razor-sharp’ penises – oh my!
Once again I stare out the window. Obviously sex is nasty…ugly, bloody, brutal, dangerous, downright debilitating for females so much of the time. Yet it also graces our world with beauty. Beauty that we can’t help but admire and cherish when it is in bloom.
Long ago my littlest niece Holland came to me one day when it was just the two of us and the house was strangely quiet. She tugged on my shirt then said, in almost a whisper, “Auntie, do you speak Butterfly?”
I leaned towards her tiny little pixie face and said no, sadly I didn’t speak Butterfly.
But it turns out that I do speak butterfly. I can hear, clearly, that the world whispers in sex and beauty, haste and hostility, over and over again. I speak butterfly because my wings are spread forever more. My antennae stay alert. Time seems of the essence. I speak butterfly because I’ve birthed and birthed and birthed and darkened the skies and filled the waters and covered the ground and still I have more to give. I speak butterfly because after all, I am a creature metamorphosed.
(All quotes included here come from the book ‘An Obsession with Butterflies’ by Sharman Apt Russell)