OT: The Butterfly and the Mower

The butterfly was small — maybe ¾ of an inch wingspan, if it stopped, which it didn’t. It appeared to be looking for something on the rich, long green lawn. It was a light blue with the sort of translucent sunglow that insects achieve effortlessly, and artists strive for a lifetime to get not-quite-right. Small it was, but its color and motion commanded one to look.

The nervous system of a butterfly is fairly rudimentary, so there’s really no way it could have conceived of the doom heading its way. It might have sensed — indeed, given its fragility and relationship with air pressure, it must have sensed — the staccato, rhythmic thunder of an engine, something it could not have conceived; or the sound of blade tips, at a high subsonic speed, shearing the grass to an unnatural, uniform level.

The butterfly could not imagine the lawnmower.

The mower, for its part, could not imagine the butterfly. Built on a production line in America with parts that seemed to come from half the world, it was a dumb machine. Perhaps it was smart for a lawnmower, given its electronic this and solid-state that, but that’s not saying much. The butterfly’s death was written in the swathes, in the next of which it unconsciously gamboled; it could no more know Death advanced than Death itself, Model 150Z Zero-Turn with the 42-inch deck, could know itself.

The death of a butterfly is an inevitability. Every living creature owes God, at the momentary flash of its conception, one death, sooner or later. For a butterfly, the delta between sooner and later is small. Most butterflies, in their adult stage, live only to reproduce — they can’t grow, and many of them don’t even feed. It’s all about the eggs.

It seemed, then, of no consequence that the mower was due to destroy the butterfly. It shouldn’t have mattered one way or another — not to the operator of the mower, who condemned higher animals for meals daily; who had visited all the woe that is war on other humans. After all, it wouldn’t have bothered him if he mowed the butterfly and didn’t know about it. And another time — in crass teenage, perhaps, and certainly Before War — he might have laughed about it.

But today, the operator stopped the mower. Dead in its tracks. The butterfly moved on, unaware that its precious, tiny, one-week life had ever been someone else’s to take. In a minute or so, when the little blue life was safe, the mower moved on as well.

Later, the operator discovered that the little life that he didn’t want on his conscience today was a Karner Blue Butterfly, an endangered species named by, we are not making this up, Nabokov. Yes, that Nabokov; while he’s remembered as a novelist, he was an avid amateur lepidopterist.

33 thoughts on “OT: The Butterfly and the Mower

  1. robroysimmons

    I’ve planted Swamp Milkweed before to feed the Monarchs that fly thru my slice of America.

      1. Hognose Post author

        Sadly, he seems to link to Lex’s blog, which appears to be dead. (“Connection Reset by Server”). Man, I miss that guy.

  2. KPKo

    A beautiful piece, thank you. I grew up reading short stories and then longer ones when maturity provided a longer attention span. Your work here stands with the best of that literature.

    Like many others I have a lawn to mow and a grill to prepare, but Monday will be spent in a sober, reflective, and respectful manner.

    1. Xwire

      Seconded. One of the reasons I enjoy this site, apart from the subject matter choices, is the sheer quality of the writing.

      The fragile circle is intact, for a little while.

  3. John D

    There is something about sparing a small life, but you put it down so nicely.


  4. Haxo Angmark

    typical Imperial Stormtrooper stuff. I know one, a helicopter pilot in Vietnam (Ia Drang, LZ Albany for starters w DFC) who went on to depopulate entire villages in Cambodia via a plague scheme. But, upon spotting a particularly tenacious weed in front of his house, transplanted the poor thing to ensure its survival

  5. James

    You have a gift, not sure why I was hanging on every word regarding the life of a dumb butterfly- but I was. Great read, thanks (along the lines of the post about your dog waking you out of deep slumber). More please!
    Even learned a new word: “lepidopterist”. Sounds perverted- had to look it up.

  6. Badger

    Lots of them (Karners) up here in WI (no, not Madison/Milwaukee, the rest of the state). You weave a fine tale – in the old days that would’ve been something found in the Reader’s Digest (which was found in the main bathroom, but a tribute to your prose-spinning).

    I have done the same thing on occasion while a bumblebee the size of a B-52 recons some clover patch. Well done & thanks for the tale. Should be in a “Best of…” if you ever do one.

  7. tom Schultz

    One of the characteristics of the true weapons man is the sense of when not to shoot.

  8. Alan Ward

    Excellent piece of prose. You standard keeps getting higher and higher each day.
    Reminds me of our annual Painted Lady butterfly unit that we teach to our grade threes here in Alberta. Students learn about life cycles etc via watching the PLB go through it right before their eyes. Then when the PLBs have finished it we go outside to release them.
    About five years ago, we went out on a particularly sunny day to release. The first eight or so soared away easily. The last few fluttered out and landed on a nearby shrub to stretch their wings or orient their GPS.
    Next thing I know, two robins swoop in and pluck three of them off the bush and gulp them down in front of the kids. Talk about showing the end of the life cycle in an unplanned manner.


    What the other guys have said. It’s a cold, grey and wet almost-winter Saturday morning here, and that story really lifted my spirits.

    You’re a gifted writer Hognose. And sparing the life of that Flutterby (as my kids called them when they were little) amply demonstrates that you’re a good man as well.

    It’s a pleasure to come here every day and hang out with you and the other blokes who add their thoughts to produce the great WeaponsMan community.

  10. redc1c4

    gems like this make me miss Lex , of Neptunus Lex fame and legend. (link in nick)

    too bad no one had the codes to keep his blog alive after his sudden demise.

    lots of people generate text, but few can write… this is awesome.

  11. John Distai

    That was very nice of you, and well written.

    It reminds me of this time I found a juvenile Copperhead under my trashcan. Someone offered me a shovel to kill it. I stood there watching it, thinking “This is a living creature, who by its fate of birth, is viewed as evil. It’s just sitting there waiting to catch toads. It’s done nothing to me. Why should I kill it? I should relocate it somewhere where someone will leave it alone.” I found a bucket and ushered it in. It bit me. I lost a finger.

  12. Paul Rain

    Somewhere in a dark room, a greasy SPLC functionary laughs sinisterly as he adds the final species to the map that finds the union of endangered-species mentions to determine his target’s location.

  13. Trone Abeetin

    I saved a sheep from getting raped once, I changed my mind. Thank you very much, I’ll be here all week. Please tip your waitress.

  14. DSM

    Much of this world I have seen and much of it, though not all, was full of hate and other terrible things. There is no need to add to it without cause.

  15. Quill_&_Blade

    Well, nice piece, but…they say every village has its idiot, and I think every blog has its redneck. Here’s the redneck encounter with the bugs:
    Had a long bed Nissan for parts. Needed a carrier bearing from it. Long bed trucks have extra long drive lines, which are typically in two sections, held up in the middle by a carrier bearing. This is mounted just under the back of the cab. The bed had already been removed. I guess I was in a hurry, but some things you need to check out -before- you get started. I worked my way down between both sides of the frame, in front of the differential. Then I wormed (wove) my way forward. I had assumed the shape of a snake; above one cross member, below another. Just as my hand and wrench reached the desired part, I looked at the frame a mere 10 inches in front of my face, and there was a very healthy wasp nest, fully occupied. I’m not a complete slob couch potato, but there was no way I could move quickly.
    For their part, they all moved to the back side of the nest, away from me. Every so often, probably 15 seconds or so, the biggest one would come around to the front side of the nest, and look at me. I just knew he was looking me in the eye, so I did the only reasonable thing: I started talking to the bugs. Hey, say what you like, snicker, laugh, call me a kook, but I’ll bet many of you would too.
    We made a deal that day. “Hey guys, I just need this one part, you leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone”. They did. I carefully got the part, carefully made my exit, and have been very accommodating to wasps since.
    I’ve even let them build nests in my workshop where the tools are; hoping maybe it will be like the story I read in Reader’s Digest: There was a family that had a wasp nest in the garage. When the family members went in the garage, they were left alone; but if a stranger went in, they were stung. GUARD WASPS! Yes! Did I say redneck? I meant wierd-o.
    Oh wait, there’s more. A couple years ago, I was doing something, can’t remember exactly what, Maybe it was firing up the BBQ grill for the first time that year. I had long wondered if one could relocate an occupied wasp nest, and this was the time to find out. If they remained where they were, they would have died. So I devised some way of capturing the nest, applying a little glue to the base, and relocating it close to the first location.
    It actually worked, for a couple days. They stayed on the relocated nest, but eventually abandoned it. I’ll see if I can find an old blog post about it.

  16. Boat Guy

    Just wanted to add my appreciation for a great piece of writing – and my gratitude to you for sharing it

    1. Hognose Post author

      It gets better. Turns out that the Karner Blue is not just an endangered species but the State Butterfly (there is such a thing?) of New Hampshire. So perhaps the minimal effort it took so that the little guy might live (from his color, he was male) is a small contribution to the state for making me welcome.

      I have learnt it is very early in the season for NH Karners. Probably because of a mild winter. There is a good bit of the wild lupine that these rare bugs need for their reproductive cycle, and plenty of the species they eat from (but mostly not flowering yet).

      Incidentally, for anyone still reading this thread, I can highly recommend Nabokov’s Pnin.

  17. gwood

    ‘”Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.” Master lttei commented, “Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.”‘

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