Mail-Order Brides and Butterfly Shells

A tiny student returned from San Diego with a "butterfly shell" for Show and Tell. The mussel shell was nestled in a nice red fabric box, padded with crumpled plastic grocery bags. Some of his classmates thought he had California muscles in his special box--shades of Schwartzenegger.

We studied the butterfly life cycle in summer school, and observed a jar of mail-order Painted Lady caterpillars. The butterflies emerged from their chrysalids over a weekend, of course. We released them in the school garden on a Tuesday.

My parents filled our home with prints by Matisse, Klee, Van Gogh, Roualt, Modigliani and Lautrec in my Wonder Bread years. I loved the print of Jane Avril, but La Goulue gave me more reasons for curiosity, foreboding, and delight. Such an introduction to symmetry, curves, taboo, revelry, color, brush strokes, and line! La Goulue's dress was the color of luna moths.

"Mail-order Painted Ladies" bring other sorts of painted ladies, mail-order brides, courtesans, and dancers to the imagination. Returning from break, we found our school garden sunflower plants being devoured by caterpillars. The kids plucked the caterpillars to put in their screened "bug box". Good luck led to a lovely assortment of tiny chrysalids inside the bug box. These brides won't be as predictable as the mail-order Painted Ladies. The anticipation and mystery are heightened. The forces at work are beyond us. The experience may remain with us for the rest of our lives.

To be married to observations of nature, to curiosity, and to wonder, to acknowledgment of forces outside our control, to questioning, and documenting, to recognizing the similarity of the butterfly and mussel, and even to a sense of moist, brushy sensuality and fecundity beyond our understanding--Ah! To be the ring-bearer or flower girl!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

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