The best nine dollars I ever spent was to gain admission to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in the Lincoln Park area Chicago. There were several interesting exhibits, including one called Lawn Nation which examines the role of the lawn in American society, and also a Chicago Academy of Science retrospective, which features all manner of stuffed and mounted scientific specimens which once happily roamed the midwestern plains. But the real standout was the the Butterfly Heaven exhibit.
I once thought heaven would be a place filled with ubiquitous super-high-speed internet, eternal puppies and kittens, and where I could eat all I want but still always feel like I’ve just gotten finished with a run; not until going to this exhibit did I have any idea that heaven was also filled with butterflies.
This is exactly what the Butterfly Heaven is like at the Peggy Notebaert Museum. Formally called the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven (They’ve clearly misspelled the word ‘Heaven’ here), this exhibit is an incredible opportunity to experience the beauty of these animals up close. You enter an enormous greenhouse, and are literally surrounded by butterflies; every direction you turn you can see these impossibly colored creatures flying around, eating from bowls of rotted fruit, hanging out on the foliage drying their wings, or doing the nasty with other butterflies (of the same species, of course) right out there in the open. And these are not lame butterflies – they’ve got species from all over the world of different shapes and sizes, exhibiting vibrant colors in varying patterns. We were fortunate enough to see a ‘first flight’, where butterflies freshly hatched from their chrysalides are released into the greenhouse to fly for the first time. Sadly, one of the butterflies’ wings didn’t dry properly and were all crumpled; the museum employee said that they’d be “taking it back to the lab” but I wonder if he he just didn’t want to say in front of the group of kids there that it’d soon be bird food
I think that it is a natural tendency to grow accustomed to one’s surroundings, to assume details as time goes on, no longer actually seeing things, but relying on memory and experience to fill in these gaps. Even living in a city with as much natural beauty as Chicago, I find that this happens to me. Most days of the week I have some exposure to Lake Michigan, but, in the back of my head, I know it’s a lake and I’ve seen it before, so I don’t concentrate on taking in any of the details: the blue-green color, the way the sun reflects and deforms on the surface of the rippling water, the shadow of the buildings.
On the same note, I’m sure I’ve seen many butterflies in the city before, but that memory kicks in, and it becomes a matter of recall and not examination or exploration. This exhibit was a great catalyst to force me out of that haze, to be literally overwhelmed with nature in all these colorful and graceful flying manifestations and to actually see each and every butterfly as a unique entity unto itself.
If you’re thinking that putting humans, which it’s becoming painfully clear nowadays have managed to seriously fuck up an entire planet, in such close contact with one of nature’s most delicate creations sounds like a poor idea … then i think you’d be correct. I took this photo of a butterfly which was probably just chillin’ out and basking in the sun when it was mindlessly trampled by some stupid lady who was walking around, listening to her iPod while taking photos with her mobile phone. It seemed futile to tell her what she had done after the fact. I choose instead to honor the life of that butterfly (which, given their ridiculously short lifespan, probably would have died sometime this week anyway), by occasionally turning off my iPod/camera/cell phone/whatever and actually trying to experience the world around me with out any sort of mediation.
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