Last week I sat with butterflies photographing and sharing them. I rode my vintage John Deere bike up my prairie road in utter bliss –as if I was riding in an animated Disney movie. The butterflies fluttered all around me as I sat at my blossoming cherry tree thanking them for choosing me to spend time with.
For the last month I’ve been traveling a whole bunch. Most of my travels are for work, which is really not work at all. You can’t call something you love work if it doesn’t hurt. What is work is sitting that long. I have an unruly lower back that attacks every time it sits. I traveled today for work 2.5 hours one-way. When I began the trip I thought to myself, “If only they’d invent a vehicle I could drive while I stand to make it comfortable.” I should have known better than to think that my thought would be heard by anyone but me.
I already told you I traveled for work. On my way to the final destination I was frantically fielding phone calls, solving problems and dictating via cell phone the grocery list to that husband of mine. “Remember. Wheat bread not white. Hickory smoked deli turkey only-not the stuff packaged in plastic. We need coffee water and bubbly drinking water. Don’t’ forget the cat litter. Oh, and can you get me a new mop? I love you!” In-between all of that I would turn the radio up then down. I arrived at the far away office and spent the next four hours sucking in information filling the void called, “My brain.” Once at my destination my brain learned a very complex computer program and was tasked with actually having to think hard. That hurts any brain but especially a blonde one. There. I said it so you don’t have to. The point is it created a whole lot of noise. Noise from people talking mixed with the sound of a copy machine making copies in the office next to the one I was working in seemed loud to me this day. Computers of other workers were dinging and ringing and alerting the people that they had email all the while cell phones were going off and conversations were being had. Hearing is an interesting thing. I’ve been guilty of having the same conversation you’ve probably had one time or another. It goes something like this, “I’d rather lose my hearing than lose my eyesight.”
There is a peculiarly great, sometimes amusing, mysterious power in the words we speak and think. I closed the lid to my brain and hopped in my vehicle for the long journey home.
This time I had already solved all the days’ problems. That husband of mine text messaged me earlier to report he had successfully fulfilled the grocery list minus the new mop. Seems he didn’t feel like he’d pick the right one and opted to have me with him when he buys it. Smart man-that husband of mine, he is. I turned my cell phone off and refused to listen to music. My brain was over-flowing. I wanted to drive home in complete and total nothingness. Apparently the universe thought otherwise. The trip was going splendidly. I put my vehicle “Zulu” on cruise control at 78 miles per hour. I traveled south for a long spell in complete silence but for the hum of Zulu’s engine. I didn’t even have any brain cells left to cognitively deduce the pain my back was giving me. I was just in my bubble of silence with my eye on the prize of a hot Jacuzzi bath upon my arrival back on my prairie. Then I turned west.
At first it didn’t affect me. I was concentrating on nothingness and being quite successful I must boast. Then it happened again. Splat.
Yellow. I turned Zulu’s windshield wipers on with the washer. That took care of that until: Splat. More yellow. Splat, splat, splat yellow, splat splat, yellow. I dislodged my glare of nothingness and began watching the yellow splats as something large disintegrated on my windshield glass. I looked just past the horizon of my view as I began to see what the yellow was. As they flew towards me I recognized them. Butterflies! I was mightily murdering dozens upon dozens of magnificent butterflies of yellow, orange and black. My silence was interrupted by the splats. I wished for the noise of the office to come back. I wished for my cell phone to ring. I wished I could just pull over and stop all the traffic so the butterflies could pass and live. I wished I could lose my vision and my hearing alike.
At the beginning of my trip I wished someone would invent a vehicle I could drive while I stand to make it comfortable. A splat then hit my brain. This time not a butterfly. The splat spoke to me that maybe life isn’t supposed to be comfortable. Maybe a few things have to splat in our faces to make us awaken. I see you butterflies. I’ll pay more attention to the blossoms you suck from and the grass where I sit. I will refrain from just looking forward and instead look up to the sky above the horizon. What comes from that place is worth seeing. It’s the place that reminds us to hear and see when we’d rather just vegetate and be.
I returned home safely but full of melancholy. I shared with that husband of mine the awakening I had given to me by the splatting butterflies. “
Too bad I didn’t get you that new mop today. The windshield is a mess,” he said.
And with that –we shuffled off to our marital bed ready to awaken to another noisy day.
Maybe that’s the whole plan. Maybe we’re supposed to not be comfortable like my lower back feels when I sit on my travels.
Ingstad lives on the prairie near Valley City and writes this column for the Times-Record.