Joyce Hinnefeld

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Walks with Butterflies

Recently I read or heard somewhere that you can gauge the health of your natural surroundings by noting the number of butterflies you see. I’ve noticed more this year than some years, I think, but it still seems to me that I see far fewer butterflies than I did when I was a kid.

I’m in Vermont now, with my husband and daughter, enjoying a week of walks and paddling around on beautiful ponds and just relaxing. Yesterday we picked wild raspberries in the woods and a little tiger swallowtail butterfly seemed to be flying along with us, bush to bush, for a while. This prompted a memory for me, of being a sullen teenager the summer before I was to leave for college (surprisingly sullen, considering how old I was, and that I was going to be leaving home soon), when my parents surprised me with the gift of a family weekend in a “chalet” in a nearby state park. “Family weekend” meant the three of us, as my older brothers were all off on their own by then, and while I would have loved the idea of a weekend in a wooden A-frame in the woods when I was younger, by that summer the very idea of spending a weekend anywhere with my parents just made me furious.

I went along, but as I recall, I was pretty surly the whole time. It’s easy to look back and laugh at teenage me now, but the truth is I still kind of remember how that felt—like my parents didn’t understand me and never would—and I can still recall, faintly, how painful that was.

My most vivid memory of that weekend in the woods is of a walk we took, Mom, Dad and I—and a butterfly that seemed to be following along, flying a bit and then alighting, leaf to leaf, as if (I thought) to keep me company. I was deep in the narcissistic whirlpool of late adolescence at the time, so of course I assumed the butterfly had somehow chosen me. It was ludicrous, and yet I do still remember what a comfort it was to think that.

My parents were, really, the anti-Tom and Addie Kavanagh (the central characters in In Hovering Flight). They were children of the Depression, conservative and religious, and all I wanted that summer was to break free. It was a matter of survival, I thought, and who knows, maybe I was right. Making Addie and Tom’s daughter Scarlet someone who needed to flee her parents’ home and lives came pretty naturally to me. Now, almost thirty years after that walk with a butterfly, as a mother myself, I can still understand my own need to flee. But I can also recognize the bewilderment of parents who only want their child to know she’s loved.

2 comments:

Bill TrĂ¼b said...

Very insightful reflection here. The escape artist inside me can definitely relate to this posting. (Leaving North America after Moravian was about more than grad school, I've since realized...) Hope you are enjoying Vermont!

Joyce Hinnefeld said...

I like how you keep "escaping," then coming back to roost a bit, BT; seems to me you've settled on a good pattern.