I soon realised that the creature was a butterfly, and that I had rudely awakened it out of hibernation. But I didn’t find out that it was more specifically a peacock butterfly until deep into the winter, when a friend gave me some information about the species in a Facebook message after I’d posted a photo of it perched on my hand, its wings outstretched. By then I’d become peculiarly attached to its constant presence in my cabin, and had even come to dread the time which surely couldn’t be too far in the future when it would either flutter through the door and never be seen again, or else would expire there in the cabin, having reached the end of its too short life.
My friend explained that they take refuge in sheds and other outbuildings from September to May and have a lifespan of eleven months. She said that their wings make a characteristic loud buzzing noise when they are disturbed, but added that this one – my ‘friend’, as she put it – looked completely at home resting on my hand.
I googled how to care for butterflies that overwinter in sheds but awaken prematurely when the room is heated up, and read that they are often fooled by the artificially elevated temperature into thinking that spring has arrived, and head outside into a frosty garden, where they meet the deadly combination of harsh weather conditions and no sources of nectar. So I started to worry about the same fate befalling my fluttering friend, and took care to quickly close the door upon entering or leaving the cabin – until it dawned on me that it had resolutely stayed put throughout the removal of the wooden platform and shelf, which had involved the use of a noisy electric drill, and during which time the door had been mostly open, as well as throughout the installation of a woodburning stove. I also recalled that I had one day made my way out of the cabin, along the garden path and into the house, not realising until I sat down in the living room that the butterfly was firmly attached to one of my slippers. It hadn't flinched when I carefully removed it from the slipper and carried it back to its cabin home. This butterfly clearly had no intention of leaving me before the winter was out, if it had any say in the matter...
It got to where I’d look for its black folded wings on one of the rough wooden walls as soon as I entered the cabin, and if I didn’t see it, I’d get slightly anxious – and then feel elated when I heard its soft fluttering as it emerged from its place of rest, as though aware that I had come in. It would sometimes crawl onto the desk in front of the computer monitor, making its presence known to me, and I would gently put my hand in front of it so that it could hop on and we could commune with each other for a while.
I became concerned about how it would be able to obtain any nourishment there in the barren cabin, and put a small amount of water in a plastic container close to where it was resting on the wall. It ignored the container and instead flew down onto the floor, where I put a few drops of the water in front of it and watched it crawl onto one of them and appear to luxuriate in the feel of the moisture on its legs. I could also see it drawing some of it in through its unfurled proboscis.
A friend of mine who had also known my late mother, who had passed away in April, and whose absence in my life I was still struggling to come to terms with, told me that butterflies are spiritual beings and said that she felt that this one actually was the spirit of my mother.
Over the weeks, the butterfly did in a way come to represent just that – a comforting presence reassuring me that Mum was okay and that when the time came for the butterfly itself to leave – in whatever way that would be – I could be at peace, as I now knew my beloved mother was.
Is all of this just me being fanciful? Does it matter? The comfort I continue to take from that butterfly’s presence in my log cabin is real. The time will come when it won’t be there any more – but then, isn’t that true of pretty much everything in our lives?
So simple a creature, so heartwarming an encounter. So unexpected, yet so, so needed at that particular time.