Wednesday 18 April 2012

Urban Wildlife Encounter

Today we had over two dozen orange and black butterflies feeding on the wild flowers in our backyard.  With my very limited knowledge of insects, I pronounced them to be Monarch butterflies as I pointed them out to Nathan.  We sat quietly at the back patio door and watched them flitter from flower to flower, their bright wings flashing like winking eyes against the grass.

At four, Nathan doesn't have much patience for any activity which requires him to be quiet and still.  But there was enough motion with butterflies constantly flitting back and forth and occasionally chasing each other in tight spirals.  After a few minutes, he asked if we could go outside and get closer.  I didn't want to frighten them away but I thought it would be a great opportunity to practice his slow and quiet moves (we've been working on them with larger animals, especially dogs).  And if we frightened them, at least we wouldn't be at risk.

Nathan collected his sunglasses and his magnifying glass and we went to sit on the back steps.  The butterflies flew off in a cloud as we came out but they only fled to the far side of the yard.  Once we settled ourselves, they started to flit closer and closer.  I picked a few flowers and held them in one outstretched hand to see if we could tempt any of them to land and feed.

I was very proud of Nathan.  He sat on that step absolutely frozen for almost fifteen minutes, barely breathing to avoid disturbing the butterflies.  He whispered a few questions, wanting to know why the butterflies were chasing each other and why they were frightened of us.  I told him butterflies chase each other because they're playing, just like he plays tag.  And they were frightened of us because they were afraid we were big animals who wanted to eat them.  He accepted the information.

After awhile, he decided he'd rather play in the backyard than watch insects, no matter how colourful.  He dashed off through the grass and the butterflies scattered on the wind around him.  It was a really beautiful image and he was delighted, spinning around and around to watch.  But he never tried to catch one.  I'd warned him we couldn't touch the butterflies without damaging their wings and even in the middle of all the excitement, he remembered.

That's a parenting moment to hold on to.

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