On a Saturday in the middle of October, my husband and I walked out of the Mosaic garage gate, intending to “pole” (vigorously walk with the use of two nordic poles) to Paco’s Tacos for our usual Sunday breakfast. We turned left on Ragsdale until we got to the park, then turned right and started poling along the sidewalk that edges the park. It was a beautiful morning. People were walking their dogs, families were playing in the park with their children, and we both were breathing in that happy feeling that comes with the promise of a good day ahead of us.
The sidewalks on the park side of the street are barely wide enough for the two of us, plus our poles. Poling is especially wonderful for people our age, older people who should take care to prevent tripping or falling on uneven turf. The poles provide us with two extra feet in front of us that alert us to any imbalance, a cracked pavement, loose acorns that may be lurking in front of our next step. And in this case, one pole and then the other, alerted me to look down and see a monarch butterfly in front of my next step, lying on its side, inside the frame that was made by my two front poles and my two back feet. It was moving… but so slowly that I had to crouch down to wait for the next movement. Perhaps it was not exactly moving, but its wings suggested to me that the butterfly was breathing slowly by caressing its wings softly together.
Inadvertently, I began trying to adjust my breathing to its slow, soft movements. I don’t know why I did that. I think I felt that if I could breathe with it, I would be able to breathe for it. But even as I looked at it on the ground, my husband approached, looked down at the butterfly and assured me it was dying. It was dying on that hot, rough concrete, a harsh, foreign substance that it surely did not recognize. It seemed a terrible death for such a beautiful, fragile creature believing it was going to reach a soft, tropical resting place. In a useless gesture, I reached for a large leaf lying nearby and tried to slide it under the dying butterfly. I wanted to take it a few feet away from the concrete to the softer grass nearby which, I believed, would surely provide it with a small degree of familiar comfort as it died.
We did pick it up to carry it to the grass where we set it down. We stood there, as if enchanted, looking down at it, waiting for it to stop moving.
There is a large pecan tree not far from where we were standing. A family of two adults and three children was picking pecans around the tree. But they stopped picking when they saw us standing there staring at something on the ground. They approached with the older daughter, about 10 years old, coming closer until she saw the butterfly. Her father stood behind her and told her that it was a monarch. They were Mexican. As I am also Mexican, I understood what he said to his daughter. He told her the butterfly was trying to get home before it died “como todos nosotros” (like all of us).
We spoke together for a while. He said they came from Colula, a small village near Michoacan, Mexico, where the monarchs migrate in winter. He said they came to Austin to visit his sister and pick our wonderful pecans, then bring them back to Colula for Christmas. The daughter asked if she could take the butterfly and, of course, we said yes.
We took the photograph you see in this article and went on our way. As we approached the corner of the street and started to turn left, I looked back on the little scene we had just left. The mother, father, and two children were back, picking pecans where we first saw them.
The daughter was standing, almost in the same spot, still looking at the monarch in her hand.