A Helping Hand

It’s been several weeks now since I found a black swallowtail female flapping on her side across the garden floor. She banged into culver’s root stems and spun across the pathway into some bronze fennel — I think she sensed the direction she had to go even from an unfamiliar angle.


When I first saw her, one wing was hanging on by a thread, and eventually she worked it off completely. I’ve never felt such compassion and honor. Maybe I feel especially aware in this season of lack, few monarchs, few butterflies, few moths. Just the loss of one butterfly might be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I reached down and cupped her, scales flecking off. She scrambled up my palm and then my wrist. I maneuvered her back down, crossing my arms like some interpretive dancer waving into the air my own strange flight. I lifted the swallowtail to a fresh stem of fennel and she grabbed hold, furiously beat her wings and placed an egg. I lifted her to another stem, and she placed an egg. Together we walked to other nearby host plants and together we fulfilled her purpose one last time.


She only laid a few eggs, and after the last one just seemed to huff and stay still. She was empty of life. I promised I’d look after her eggs if they hatched. The next morning she was gone, perhaps dead in the shadow of some perennial, or even the meal of a predator; neither is tragic, no more so than the petals falling from the sunflower even now.


Not all of the eggs hatched, but most did. I’ve watched them grow slowly, more slowly than in earlier summer months. Two have already run off to form their winter chrysalis, some are near that time. Though it is hot again and the prairie drought rages on for a second year, we find our way, butterfly and human. Sometimes we’re lost and defeated, but sometimes we are lifted up by the smallest acts of grace and remember who we are with determination and soul. This is a wildlife garden for all of us.


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  1. says

    Lovely, Benjamin! Thank you for the story of your helping that black swallowtail lay her eggs, and for the grace of knowing her progeny are going through their cycles because of it. What a gift of hope and connection!
    Susan J. Tweit recently posted..Whew!

  2. Gail Spratley says

    Beautiful story! There is so much we can do, such a small, thoughtful effort that meant so much to that black swallowtail, and fills me with hope that, multiplied many thousand-fold, others are making similar small, thoughtful efforts across the world. Thank you for sharing!

  3. says

    Such a sweet story on so many levels, Benjamin! In a world that sometimes has the feeling of what else can go wrong, I look for good things to keep my heart open. I feel incredibly uplifted by your act of grace! The injured, black swallowtail mother intercepted the right path in you that day! We are all blessed by your kindness.

  4. Regina Renner says

    I was very moved by this beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing. I am grateful for the other nature loving people on this Earth. I know every small gesture can make a difference.

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