There’s a butterfly here in Ohio called the Hackberry, named after the tree on whose leaves its larvae feed. I had no idea. That is, until this morning, when one sunned itself on the wood siding of the barn, its brown speckled wings closing, then opening, its proboscis a precise spiral, each antennae topped with one white ball, like the protective coating on a bobby pin. This obliging butterfly waited while I fetched a reference book and flipped through the pages until he could be identified.
I had walked the farm lanes for decades knowing nothing of this butterfly, a member of the Nymphalidae Family, who relies on the hackberry’s existence for its own. I did know about the sound of the wind through the branches of the hackberries in midwinter. Guests to our hillside retreat had seen the black snake who curled up in the cool crevices of its shelter. I marveled at the sight of red-tailed hawks perched on the highest limbs for the best views of the fields. It was a benevolence; the cool shade of the hackberry trees on a summer day.
How I miss them. And here is what they taught me about being in a body….
Let’s consider what happens when the wind blows strongly. Things move, yes? A tree’s branches flail about, the silver undersides of their leaves flashing. And that was the extent of my observations, until one day, I noticed that not only did the branches respond to the wind, but almost the entire tree, yes, even its trunk.
In the tree’s pliancy was its resilience. Could I let the winds and gales of my life bend me, thereby not breaking me? Could I move and act, instead of freezing and shutting down?
Some call them ‘weed-trees,’ but I know better. Thank you, hackberrys, for this lesson. And thank you, dear brush-footed butterfly, for visiting the hill today. My heart sings to know there are still hackberry trees nearby, and that your life began on their welcoming leaves.