Day 63 in alert level 2 and I am sensing an easing and a level of comfort building as we begin to feel reassured that the virus has been successfully contained. My friend in public health said to me yesterday, as long as we keep the borders closed for a year we should be okay. This is good news. The relief that courses through the veins, if you let it, is very pleasant. And with this growing confidence the mind is set free to wander and roam and think of things beyond the pandemic. I’m aware this is a luxury when in some parts of the world, in Africa and some parts of South America in particular where health systems are often fragile, the virus still presents a very great threat to human life. When I stop to consider this I wonder if it is even okay to let my mind drift.
But it has moved on of its own accord. Writing about the monarch butterfly on day 59 set me thinking some more about butterflies and how the monarch seems to have accompanied me, or I have been alert to its presence since I developed a garden at my family home in a gully of native trees and ferns in the city suburb of Westmere. In that garden I grew the South American salvias. They were ideally suited to our sub-tropical climate and offered the colour and form, that in the south island would normally be provided by herbaceous perennials — penstemon, scabiosa, monardia, allium, euphorbia, the gentle geum. I had no idea when I first planted the purple salvia ‘Indigo Spires’, and next the lime and purple ‘Mexicana limelight’ and the velvety lilac leucantha with its silver leaves that monarch butterflies would be drawn to the purple spikes to sip on the nectar. In my mind’s eye I see them now hovering above the plants, rising and dipping, silent and ethereal, dancing.
I am not alone in my love of the monarch. I have a good friend who draws strength from the butterfly too. She lost her mother, sadly far too young, and for her the sightings of the monarch provide a link to the spirit of her mother. They flutter in front of her just exactly when she most needs them. When my mother died, my cousin noticed a dead monarch butterfly on the pavement outside the country school where the funeral was held. She too has always associated butterflies with her mother, my aunt.
On the day in May when I returned home from Christchurch at the end of the long week of my mother’s dying and burial, I was gazing through the window checking the garden to see what had flowered in my absence when I noticed a monarch hovering about the salvia leucantha near the kitchen door. The wings were a brilliant orange, its black markings were thick velvet seams. The brightness on that day in late May was dazzling. I had collected young Arlo from school and together we stood at the sliding door transfixed by the spectacle, while it lingered on the flower long enough for me to photograph it.
Three months later on the morning following the end of my marriage, I was driving through the streets of Auckland on a grey, showery, bitter day at the end of August, in a state of numbness, hardly knowing where I was, or what I was doing. At the lights waiting for them to turn I saw through the rain-smeared window the monarch hovering around the car. It was persistent. It flew towards my face and flapped at the window until I drove off.
Again on the first anniversary of my mother’s death when a crowd of her friends and family gathered around the grave and one by one selected a smooth stone collected from her favourite beach at Kaitorete Spit and placed it on the earth naming a virtue they saw in her, a monarch arrived to bless the ritual.
Seeing the monarch the other day alighting on the orange flower of the Cape Honeysuckle I had a feeling that something good was on the way…