This morning Lake Michigan was as deep blue as I'd ever seen it; a bottomless hue that mirrored the heaviness of the clouds overhead and banished the golden light of morning to the farthest reaches of the horizon.
As I walked up the stairs to Regenstein an odd shape perched atop the garden soil caught my eye. When I crouched down to get a closer look I discovered a giant mourning cloak butterfly huddled up against the morning's chill.
Mourning cloaks are among my favorite species of butterfly. Their roughly-textured and somewhat unremarkable exterior disguises a velvety red-brown inner plumage; sequined with sapphire dollops of iridescence and edged with radiant gold, their raiment is as luxurious as that of a king, but without any garrulous pretension.
I must have somewhat disturbed this poor guy when I picked him up. As he sat atop my fingers and later my knee he shivered mightily in an effort to warm his system enough to fly away. I edged my face close to his and gently blew a few puffs of warm air against his body. With each breath he responded by fully opening and closing his beautiful wings as if to stretch.
When I was around 5 or 6 years old I found a caterpillar and kept it in a jar with a few sticks and leaves I thought it might enjoy munching on. I was lucky, and after a couple days it climbed up one of the sticks, hung itself upside down, and spun itself into a cocoon. A few weeks later I watched wide eyed as a new mourning cloak emerged wet and shriveled from its chrysalis. After an extended period of weary stretching and inflating, the young adult flapped out its beautiful wings and readied itself to go out into the world. Watching its transformation had been magical. Though part of me was sad to see it finally take off from my finger and fly away into the sunshine, I felt proud and happy to have been its protector for a time. I'm sure this experience also contributed to my special affinity for the mourning cloak.
After I gave it a few more warm breaths, this morning's butterfly took off from my finger, fluttered high into one of the trees nearby, and settled atop one of its loftiest branches. I suppose it may well have been thinking, "Thank goodness that monster didn't eat me! Maybe NOW I can FINALLY get some peace!"