One of the loveliest gifts I received for my birthday this year was taped inside a card from my friend Bridget. It was a pupae of a Vanessa cardui, with the promise that in 3-6 days, a butterfly would emerge.
The painted lady broke free of her chrysalis Tuesday morning. Claire noticed her first. "Mommy, there's a butterfly in our house!" she said, running to get me and dragging me into the kitchen where our new insect friend rested, wings still wet and crinkled. We moved her into a bug house with wire mesh sides so that she could finish drying out and enjoy some rest. All the work required to change from caterpillar to butterfly must be exhausting.
I told Claire that we could keep her for a couple of days, but that soon we'd have to release her in the yard. We decided this morning -- a warm morning, but heavy with fog -- that we would wait until this afternoon to let her go. (Claire wanted to be sure she was warm and could see where to go.)
"It's time," I told her, after lunch and with Gage napping in his crib.
She picked up the bug house and immediately burst into tears. "I don't want to let her go," she sobbed. "I love her and I want to keep her."
"Honey, butterflies don't belong inside houses. Butterflies belong outside, where they can fly through the sky and float on the wind," I replied.
We made a deal. We would open the door to the bug house and pull the butterfly out on a stick. If she left, she left. If she stayed, then we'd keep her another day.
The painted lady sat there for a moment, flapping her wings and allowing us one last close-up look at her gorgeous color. We both held our breath as she left. There was no gentle flapping of wings, no resting on flowers nearby. She was there and then gone; it seemed almost as if she became part of the wind.