On September 11th of this year, I went walking with my husband in Col. Sam Smith Park, one of west-end Toronto’s hidden lakeside gems, thick with goldenrod and purple asters, some of its lush green trees already tinged rose-red. It’s become a ritual with us, to take a life-giving walk in the park on this date, to view the Toronto skyline’s CN Tower from across the water, to hike the irregular terrain, to enjoy the dog-walkers, the ducks, the boats and the clank of rigging in the harbour.
We noticed some Monarch butterflies fluttering about, and I remarked that I’d seen so few of them over the past few years, victims of strange weather and chill winters further south. One of the many birdwatchers in the park told us that further along, there was a treeful of the frail, endangered creatures. I hardly believed it, but we kept on walking, until we came upon this extraordinary sight — an entire tree fluttering with dozens of the delicate, orange-and-black winged insects, as if the tree’d had a mind to reveal to us some wondrous dimension of its inner life, one kept hidden on ordinary days, in ordinary time.
A stop on the Monarchs’ migratory path, for sure. Yet it felt like a gift, as if I were in the presence of a profound mystery, as if for only a moment, the veil of time had parted, to give us a glimpse of the numinous. I received it as a blessing on earth and sky, so injured on this date years ago.
It was an overcast day, and I hadn’t brought my camera, but I returned two days later in bright sunshine and took the pictures you see here. Butterflies were everywhere, dozens of them enjoying their tree and the fields of goldenrod. On this occasion, a number of other people had gathered with their cameras. Yet all around the tree was the silence of wonder. It felt — reverent. It felt like what church should feel like, and almost never does.
It felt beyond words, and yet there were words: elation and yearning, and a strange, unfathomable homesickness — for what? — that I often experience as I enjoy the natural world. As I stood in awe of the butterflies, I just couldn’t grasp the exquisite beauty before me, and I realised that I never would. It was poignant, even sad, as if one were reading a wonderful novel that ended in a language impossible to decipher. Now I suppose that this is our human paradox and sorrow, creatures of a tainted world who cannot see the end of their own story or grasp the greater tale of creation that enfolds us. In the end, I think that where understanding fails, there is nothing to do but receive the gift and love it.
All this beauty given to us at the very end of summer in a terrifying world.
I wish the Monarch butterflies a safe journey.