I’m a bit of a word geek, and any word geek worth their salt has a soft spot for collective nouns, the names for groups of things. I’m especially fond of those for animals because of how vivid, apt and amusing they can be. Sometimes they are derived from symbolism, a murder of of crows, for instance; other times they play off the creatures’ behavior, as in an ostentation of peacocks, or they can take their cue from the animals’ physical appearance, say a mask of raccoons.
It is probably no great surprise to regular readers, that my all-time favorite collective noun is a kaleidoscope of butterflies. It’s absolutely perfect. I have vivid memories as a child of being mesmerized by the dancing, colored patterns of a dime store kaleidoscope.
Being in a garden swarming with butterflies, looking up through the branches of a flowering shrub, catching rainbow glints of sun flare, patterns of leaf and blossom, and the flickering, flitting, changing patches of iridescent brilliance – that’s the closest thing I can imagine to shrinking myself inside a kaleidoscope. Which, I think, is what was aiming to do as I lost time in those colors and patterns as a child.
As much as I adore butterflies, I can’t fathom collecting them as generations of lepidopterists did. Killing them in a jar with gas, pinning their wingspan wide in an arrangement they’d never adopt in life. Their truest magic, for me, is in their life and their movement; the ways in which they use their extra color sense to light upon a favorite bloom that perfectly matches or offsets their coloring; the way they interact with light, breeze, each other or the occasional interloping bee, and even with me, as they grow used to my presence among them. That sensation is a tall order for a photograph, but I like a stretch goal. It pushes me to look at new ways of doing things.
This summer with a lot of practice, a great deal of trial and error, and the help of some prism filters, I made an order of magnitude leap closer to images that convey that magical sensation of being inside the kaleidoscope with the butterflies.
These photos all come from my very last roll of the summer. Next year when the butterflies arrive again I’ll be rusty, my reflexes will be off and initially they won’t recognize me as an ardent admirer – friend not foe. But I’ll plant for them, notice them, run out into the yard with my camera, often just to admire them, talk to them, cajole them and watch them.
Perhaps I’ll try to attempt some new idea that I’ve cooked up over the cold months. I’ll get back to making my mistakes, and trying to figure it out all over again – how to stop time inside a kaleidoscope of butterflies all over again. I can’t wait.
Wishing you all magic and wonder over the holidays and in the coming year