I wrote this story in December 2018 as a gift to my good friend, Shirlee. Shirlee lost her sister Pamela to cancer earlier in the year, and got a blue butterfly tattoo on her wrist to remember her by. Butterflies are all about transformation, so this was my humble attempt to do what I could to transform some of her grief into something beautiful. I gave this story to Shirlee and told her that I would not publish it unless she asked me. The very next day after I handed it to her, Shirlee told me to do so.
Fables are stories where animals or other parts of nature are anthropomorphized and given human qualities. Writers of fables are called fabulists. So, consider this my debut as a fabulist. This my tribute to the life of Pamela Spratt.
Much love and Merry Christmas!
The Blue Butterfly
“What a blessing of life. One that is eternal
Harmonious structures. Internal. External.”
-Thrill of It All, Satsang
Once upon a time, there was a little blue caterpillar named Pamela. She could not remember when she was born, nor where. Sometimes, when she thought hard about it, she felt she could recall some of the circumstances of her birth. In her mind, she came from a realm of great light, paradoxically both an exciting and peaceful place where everything was warm and cozy and safe. Most times, though, her earliest memory was of the thing that she usually found herself doing, from the moment she came into the world as a grub to after she pupated and became the periwinkle-hued caterpillar that she was: chewing leaves and hiding from birds and rodents.
That’s not to say that her life was boring. The world that she knew, the one that she woke up to every day, was a place of adventure. She did not know where life would take her. Some days she found herself in a glen, eating the clover from great fields of green. Other days she would be deep in the forest, nuzzling along the branch of a maple tree to eat of the massive leaves that sprouted from its tips. Still other days the weather would turn cold and rainy, and Pamela would inch her way under the fronds of a fern to wait it out.
One day, in mid-summer, Pamela was doing just that – waiting out a lightning storm under a fern – when she was approached by a little black beetle. He shimmied about the forest floor, wet and dejected. The beetle’s name was Rufus, and Rufus had a broken wing. It did not take much looking for Pamela see the dented part of his shiny black carapace where the pebble had fallen and shattered Rufus’ means of flight. When he gazed at Pamela, he saw something in her eyes that drew the story out of him.
Rufus had come to Pamela because she seemed nice and non-threatening, and Rufus was tired of telling his story to other beetles, brothers and sisters who simply had no time to listen. They would give him a few moments to get started telling of his injury before they opened their shells and buzzed away, leaving Rufus stuck to the forest floor, alone.
Unlike Rufus’ friends and family, Pamela did not leave. She listened to every word, told Rufus that she was sorry, that it must be awful to have known the beauty of flight and suddenly be earthbound again. After the storm, Rufus smiled in his beetle way and motioned to Pamela with one of his antennae, signaling her to follow him. And so, she let Rufus lead her to a patch of sweetgrass, bar none the most delicious food in the whole of the forest. The two pulled down a few blades, ate together and each shared more stories: their favourite places to go for food, of the best ways to avoid birds, of the warmest shaded spots to lounge when the sun came out.
When they finished their meal, the unlikely pair decided to find a place to sleep together. Different sorts of threats emerged at night – nastier rodents and bigger birds – so finding a proper hiding spot meant life and death for two such as Pamela and Rufus. After a long while of searching, they eventually came across the right nook. It was a little hole at the base of a big tree, and whatever had dug the burrow had long since left.
That was their first night together. The two would spend many nights together, quietly enjoying each other’s company. The stories ran out, as stories tend to do, so they crafted new ones together. These were stories of adventures shared, of red-breasted robins evaded in grey early morning light and snarling rats frustrated by chasing the duo into the most infinitesimally small places where even those adept furry contortionists could not fit. There were happier tales, too: peaceful yarns of basking in summer sun on enormous verdant leaves and sips from colourful flower petals that added a zip to the taste of the dew.
After a while, Rufus forgot about his family, about the beetles who buzzed about high up in the air above Pamela and Rufus. Occasionally, a sibling of his would come by to see him, but it was more out of obligation than of any true desire to spend any time with Rufus. He was a cripple, after all, and beetles were proud creatures. Rufus represented the potential for misfortune that awaited every forest creature, accidents of happenstance that could snuff out a life in a moment. Rufus considered himself lucky to have survived the pebble, but most of his siblings thought that he would have been better off had he been killed.
Not Pamela, though. Pamela thought herself the fortunate one to have found Rufus. Life as a caterpillar before Rufus had been lonely. She never knew any of her family – as far as she could remember, it had always just been her. She had been happy enough before she had met Rufus, but after having come across his soul, she knew that she had been missing out on a great and important part of life.
It was love and connection, of course. Like a desert dweller who had finally stumbled across an oasis, Pamela found the waters of life within a diminutive black beetle cast out by his family. They were of completely different species, so there was no risk that this love might ever be consummated, but that didn’t matter. What was between the two of them was deeper than simple physical affection. And it had awoken something within the blue caterpillar, something that she could not put a name to, but something which she felt deep below her hairy blue skin.
One late evening, after the cicadas began their chorus and the approaching chill of fall began to seep into the air around their burrow, Pamela felt the feeling grow within her breast yet again, but it was stronger this time. It was as though something called to her, some great indefatigable and unrelenting force that told her to climb. She was so swept up in the feeling that she did not even wake Rufus, who had begun snoring not more than a few moments before the pull took her.
Drawn outside of the burrow by instinct, Pamela approached the bark and put her sticky blue legs tentatively against the tree. She had climbed ferns and little shrubs, but a tree? This was something new. And scary. What if she fell? What if a bird found her and ate her?
“Climb,” called her heart. “Climb and do not stop.”
Pamela looked back at the entrance to the burrow. Perhaps she could speak with Rufus, seek his counsel before she attempted this madness?
“Climb,” repeated her heart. “You must climb and without delay.”
Pamela felt every little blue hair on her body rise at once. She knew that something inexpressible was coming, and she somehow was certain that this would be her last time to speak with Rufus. She had left so much unsaid, so much of her heart was yet burdened. She would have told Rufus that she loved him with all of her heart, that he had shown her the joy of life and that her life was empty before he had arrived. She would have told him that time spent with him had been a dance of pure love. The scary moments, those tentative seconds when the birds had been in hot pursuit and when survival was all but guaranteed, her thoughts had always been of him. The beautiful times, of wealth and plenty, her mind had always turned to his enjoyment. She decided then that she would return into the burrow, wake Rufus, and recite to him all of the love in her heart.
“Climb!” shouted her heart. “If you do not climb right now, all will be lost!”
Wise insects say that the mind thinks, and the heart knows. In that moment, Pamela had learned the truth of this, but it did not make abandoning her friend any less painful. She felt the organ that called her upwards rip in two as she placed her first sticky foot onto the bark of the tree.
The climb up passed in a blur. It seemed as though she had just started when she reached the branch that seemed to be pulling her forward through time. A warm feeling blossomed throughout her little furry body as she marched those final steps towards destiny.
When Rufus awoke the following morning, the first thing he noticed was that Pamela was not nuzzled into him, as she was in the habit of doing. His bed was cold, and he felt the chill of it. But light was streaming in through the little hole in the tree that was their front door. Rufus assumed that Pamela was simply up before him, out enjoying the breaking dawn. He went after her.
It was several minutes before Rufus realized that Pamela was not going to respond to his cries of her name.
Distraught, Rufus sat down against the side of the tree. Where could Pamela have gone? She was supposed to be here with him. Had she left him? Why? Why hadn’t she at least told him she was going? Rufus lay back and looked up.
That was when he spotted it. Periwinkle blue and dangling from a branch above him, Rufus would have recognized the shade of his beloved anywhere. But she was different – she was hanging from a thread and she had no eyes or face. There was nothing but the unchanging expression of a cocoon staring back at the injured beetle.
“Pamela,” exclaimed Rufus. “What has happened to you?”
But Pamela did not respond. She could not. She was somewhere else, in a place far beyond the waking world. Rufus did not know anything about biology: he had no idea of the wondrous transformation that was occurring above his little beetle head. Rufus shouted a few more times, then shivered at the morning cold. He would need to eat soon, but he could not simply leave her. Rufus decided to go cut himself a meal from the sweetgrass patch and bring it back to their home.
Days passed in this manner. Rufus would eat and sleep. And wait.
The dangers of the forest seemed to press in on the beetle during this time of great anticipation. The birds were nastier, and the rodents’ sense of smell seemed to be better. His life on the run, as it had been since he could remember, was more oppressive somehow. Without Pamela to keep him company, the colour drained from his world. At his lower moments, Rufus thought that Pamela might be dead, that this was how caterpillars died, that the thing dangling from the branch high above his reach was a corpse.
How he missed his ability to fly in those uncertain days! If only he could have buzzed up to her, Rufus would have made his way up and smelled of her scent. His soul would have received some small measure of the balm that was Pamela’s presence. But he could not reach Pamela. He might never be able to do so.
As late summer drifted into fall, hope began to wither. She was dead: Rufus was becoming all the more certain of that. Rufus was holding a candle for nothing. It was the pathetic dream of a crippled beetle, unwanted by his family and pitifully missing his dead beloved. The black claws of despair wormed their way around the little insect’s mind.
It was one crisp fall morning when things changed. Rufus was on the brink of collapse, thinking himself unable to go on. He would go and offer himself up to a rat, rather than continue this bleak existence. As he sat next to the tree, contemplating taking his own life, a flash of blue and a big thump pulled him from his dark reverie. Before him, in a puff of dust, lay the periwinkle blue of Pamela’s cocoon.
It was at that very moment that Rufus heard the screech of a robin looking for her morning meal. Looking up, he could see the red breast of the bird circling above. Rufus returned his gaze to the cocoon before him. Pamela was right out in the open. If that bird decided to descend upon her now, there would be no escape.
The same force that pulled Pamela up the tree, the pull of the heart, called to Rufus. It told him to distract the bird, to draw the creature away from what it must have seen as an easy meal. Rufus knew the danger, knew that he might very well die if he did not run and hide at this very moment. His mind screamed fear to him, but he had crossed the threshold. The power of love was flowing through his being and he would offer himself up to the robin for even the slightest chance that his beloved might survive.
I would like to tell you that Rufus and Pamela were joyfully reunited, that the robin did not have her morning meal that fateful day. But I cannot, for Rufus’ time had come. He was halfway between the tree and the patch of sweetgrass when the robin landed next to him and snatched him up in her beak.
When Pamela awoke, she found herself bound up in her chrysalis. It was dark and warm and stifling. She fell immediately to the work of freeing herself. After a few tense moments, dark seconds when she was not sure if the rigid tissue surrounding her would tear, she was free. And she was different! She had wings now. She felt the sky pull to her with every tentative flap of her new appendages.
Scanning her surroundings, she recognized the little hole in the tree that had been her home with Rufus. Grinning ear to ear, she called to her love. Rufus did not reply. She walked over to the hole and bent down. She was much taller than she had been. They would have to get a new burrow, Pamela smiled to herself as she called her beloved’s name. But there was no response from the hole.
It was Pamela’s turn to call helplessly to a creature that was not going to respond. After a few hours, Pamela took up her seat against the tree. Where had Rufus gone? Had he forgotten about her? The thought that he might not be in the world of the living did not cross the butterfly’s mind, so certain was she that they would be together forever. Instead, she thought that he had abandoned her, unaware that she had climbed the tree and become something else. She knew she should have stopped herself to tell him that she was going on the first night of her metamorphosis, and now she blamed herself. Every single bit of her heart that she had wanted to express to Rufus before she climbed the tree screamed betrayal at her.
Pamela let her grief wash through her. She sobbed and sobbed until there was nothing left.
After some time, Pamela began to understand. She began to see her relationship with the beetle for what it was. Before, she had been lonely. After Rufus, she had found herself in him. He was everything to her. And now, he was gone.
With a heart as heavy as a boulder, Pamela spread her wings, tried herself a few more times, then flew up into the air.
Life as a butterfly was wonderful on the surface, Pamela had to admit to herself after a time. Flight was without compare. Soaring to dizzying heights and drifting on the cooling fall breeze was something that Pamela could never have envisioned when she was a caterpillar. But every time she found a new burrow or crook in a tree in which to sleep, Pamela was reminded of her missing Rufus.
She never gave up her search for him. When she was not eating or sleeping, she patrolled the forest and glens, looking for her diminutive friend. There were times when she spied little black bodies and felt a rush through her digestive system, as if she were about to eject her lunch. When the beetles inevitably kicked off and flew into the air themselves, Pamela’s heart sank almost as low as it did that first day of her new life.
Pamela recalled how she used to listen with wonder as Rufus would tell her stories of flight, how it felt to have your feet suddenly leave the ground. Her beloved would have given anything to do what she was now doing, flitting from branch to branch in the lands of their home. Pamela had promised herself that she would pick him up and take him wherever he wanted to go, if only she could find him.
The dangers had lessened now that she was able to fly. Birds were still a problem, but the rats and mice were no longer any threat at all to her, unless she completely let her guard down, which was not something a butterfly was designed to do. So, Pamela survived, determined to never give up hope.
After a while, just before the winds of winter began to blow, Pamela felt another pull upon her heart. This one was urgent, in the same way that the call to climb had been urgent. She could not do anything but heed its pull.
With eyes suddenly awander, Pamela began to notice all of the other butterflies that flapped through the forest. She could sense something else, too – the scent of the males. After a day or so of the heat having come upon her, Pamela allowed a little red butterfly mount her back and seed her.
Pamela might have felt the inexorable call to mate, but this coupling had nothing of heart in it. It was frantic and needful, and when it was over, Pamela simply left the male chewing on a blade of grass. Pamela sensed that there was more yet to come, and that she would need to find a spot to lay down for the winter.
Pamela chose another burrow near the one that she had shared with Rufus. Pamela was hoping against hope that her beloved would return to their shared home before the first flakes began to fall. Satisfied with her choice of hibernation den, Pamela flapped her way down to a leaf below to lay her eggs.
It was a strange sensation, giving life in this way. Pamela wondered at her own mother, a butterfly she had never met. How had her life been? Did she even know of Pamela, of any of her life? Did she watch her emerge from her egg as a larva? Did she see Pamela pupate into a caterpillar? Pamela decided that if she did not find Rufus before the end of the year, she would see her babies born. Perhaps to witness life emerge in this way would give her a reason to live once more. She finished ejecting her eggs and prayed that her children would survive whatever harshness the winter had in store for them.
Rufus, having long since been transformed through the miracle of digestion into a tail feather on the robin that ate him, did not show up by first snowfall. Pamela intuitively knew that staying out in the cold would see her risk her own death. With a heavy heart, Pamela tucked herself into her home for the winter and fell asleep once more.
When the spring thaw came, it welcomed Pamela with warm air and much rain. Slipping from her hiding spot, Pamela flew down to the clutch of eggs on the leaf below. The snow upon them had melted, but she could not tell whether they were alive or not. There was only one thing to do. It was the same thing Rufus had done while she herself was in her chrysalis, though Pamela did not know it. The periwinkle blue butterfly ate and slept. And waited.
Unlike the robin that had eaten Rufus, there were no surprise dangers for Pamela when the eggs finally began to hatch. Pamela watched with a joyful heart as the grubs slid across the leaves and munched on the great big leaf upon which Pamela had chosen to lay her eggs. Her children were very much alive, but Pamela discovered that they could not respond to her when she attempted to speak to them. They did not even acknowledge her presence, as blind and ignorant of the world around them as larvae tend to be.
Pamela was saddened for a moment. She had been expecting something great from what she saw before her. Instead, it was just a bunch of white wriggling things. Then she looked down and saw the little burrow that she and Rufus had shared. She thought of him, his little black body, the funny way he walked, how he tripped over his words when he got excited telling a story.
A tear fell to the forest floor.
In perfect concert with the salty spatter below, as if she had been struck by a bolt of summer lightning, Pamela felt a great weight lift from her heart. She recognized that Rufus was most likely dead, whether by predator or the winter’s chill, but she also noticed something in the way her children inched along the leaf as they ate.
It seemed to Pamela that there was a great order to life and death, as if an invisible thread ran from parent to child to grandchild and on down the line. She did not know where it had started, and she would never know where it would end, or even if it would at all, but there was something of peace in the mystery. Every moment of life was indeed that – a mystery. And it was always with her, this present moment. The past and the future were imagined things that Pamela had built up in her head, never truly leaving nor arriving. She recognized the image of her little babies, munching bits of green as the first spring wind to caress their faces blew, for what it was: a miracle. The brand-new life before her, grasping and tentative, had rekindled the fire in her heart.
She thanked her children for their gift, spread her wings, and flapped up into the warm spring air. Pamela had no idea where she was going, nor when she would leave this world, but she had long since learned the difference between thinking and knowing. And Pamela, wise insect that she was, knew that it was going to end in the way that all life started: in a paradox of excitement and peace, and filled with a safe, comforting light.
“Well it’s all these lessons learned through hard ways
Well it’s all these blessings disguised as hard days
I’m consumed and in awe. I’m trying to draw conclusions but I’m too amazed
I see the way the water meets land
I see the way the way that the strings meet my hand
I see mountains arise, collide with the sky
What a bliss to be part of the plan.”
-Thrill of It All, Satsang