Down the road the other day, walking, I looked down. Bright green, moving. I knelt. I found a caterpillar. It waved its way across the gravel. It seemed a tough environment for a caterpillar–soft and squishy on hard and rough. I found a dried leaf. I held it in front of the caterpillar. It climbed aboard. I carried it to the other side of the road.
I kept looking down. There was a mottled leaf, still green but dried in spots. Why was it like that? It looked burned. I admired it. I left it where it had fallen.
And now I was looking closely at small things. I noticed the seeds of the grass backlit by sun. I noticed all the tiny yellow flowers of the Goldenrod, green and brown that look like one big cluster of gold. I noticed the mud. In the sun the mud was almost dry, hardened into deer tracks. In the shade, tire tracks firmed up, damp. In the deep shade, goo and puddles.
And more flowers–Chickory and Asters. Several kinds of asters–pink and light purple and the purple of almost night. One Aster matched the color of the sky as the sun sank low. Monarch Butterflies found the flowers. They like the Asters the best. Moths flitted. I watched a mosquito on my shoulder.
Then I looked up enough to walk back home. A breeze picked up. Some sparrows peeped in the brush. A car passed and raised a cloud of dust. Then it was quiet again. Buttercups bobbed. A goose honked its way south. And then I was back, and as I wrapped myself n the world of my house, those small things of the world sank back into the afternoon.
Asters are blooming like crazy right now: Purple Aster, New England Aster, Fleabane. Black-Eyed Susans are done. Touch-Me-Nots are gone. Dandelions? Haven’t seen them. Asters rule the fields these days.
I don’t know my butterflies well. I have thought many a time that I should learn them. I got some exposure to learning them on a trip this summer the butterfly garden at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury. They had a tent full of them with signage to show what was what. I don’t remember squat from that. Poor student, I guess.
The butterflies in the photo above are American Ladies. I had to look that up. I might be able to tell a Viceroy from a Monarch, but don’t trust me too much. I know there is more than one Swallowtail in Vermont. Can’t tell them apart though. But I tell you this: they are just cool-looking.
It is kind of nice to simply not know the names of things. There is real pleasure in being able to look at an insect, or a plant or a bird, and to know its name. To name something is the beginning of getting to know it, to knowing more than just its name. However, there can be just as much joy in simply wondering at a thing, in watching and seeing with ignorant eyes, in being present to observe.
A sunrise does not have a name, but it is beautiful. We can watch the sky change and the clouds trudge along in their pinkness and just feel awe. We do not have to create a name for snow on trees to find it wondrous. So it is with butterflies. I am curious about what they all are, what makes them different, where they go in winter, what flowers they prefer–all of that starts with naming them. But I do not need to name them to find them wondrous. They dance, unnamed, among the asters I might be able to name, and I feel like kid. “That is so cool!” I say aloud. And that is enough.