Posted by: atowhee | July 3, 2021


To a Butterfly (2)

This plot of orchard-ground is ours;
My trees they are, my Sister’s flowers;
Here rest your wing when they are weary;
Here lodge as in a sanctuary!
Come often to us, fear no wrong;
Sit near us on the bough!
We’ll talk of sunshine and of song,
And summer days, when we were young;
Sweet childish days, that were as long
As twenty days are now.

–William Wordsworth

Lattitude 45 degrees north. West of Cascades. Daytime.

The western tiger swallowtail is widespread in Oregon. Its larvae eat leaves of cottonwood, aspen, poplar, alder, ash, chokecherry and willow. Not oaks or conifers. The do not migrate, but pupa over-winter.

Egg stage4 to 10 days
Caterpillar (larval) stage3 to 4 weeks
Chrysalis (pupal) stage10 to 20 days*
Adult butterfly stage6 to 14 days
* except over winter

So little do we know, so few answers can we expect. Does the adult swallowtail carry forward any memories of its caterpillar days? Those sweet cherry leaves, the slightly acrid taste of ash? What feeling, what glory, what mystery on that first day when the pupa tears open, when the wings first spread, then dry in the summer air? A first flight–is that feeling, that skill, born through egg and larva, generation to generation? Several generations each summer. So quick, so intense, so brief. Why such brutal genetics that so much beauty and elegance come and go so quickly? So few answers can we expect. The ancient Greeks saw it clearly–fate awaits us all.

I am so glad our small, dense stand of flourishing, flowering plox is so pleasing. If I thought it could help repair your torn wing, or prolong your life, your bouyant being, your beauty beyond flower or cloud or sunset, if it only would…I would plow up the garden and plant a quarter-acre of phlox phor you alone.

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.
-Maya Angelou

I can only hope such summer visions will inspire our species to do what we must to limit climate change and save those beings in nature–from redwood to monarch butterfly–that bring beauty into a harsh universe made up largely of space.


  1. I appreciated the info about our native swallowtail butterfly.

  2. I saw one of these in our San Francisco garden a couple of weeks ago. It would land on the field daisies, but not stay, moving on quickly to the coreopsis (the clear favorite).

  3. Beautiful pictures! We long to attract Monarchs, but let’s spend more time appreciating our beautiful Swallowtails!

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