I NEVER SAW
1 September 2002
Whatever happened to butterflies?
I rode out into the country this morning (15 miles before breakfast) and at my
turn-around spot, I looked down and saw the wing of a dead butterfly. When you're all
alone out in the country, with miles to go back into town, your brain begins to think
about things like that.
Like--why don't you see butterflies any more?
It seems like I used to see butterflies all the time when I was a kid. I suppose that
the encroachment of society, the increase in pollution, and the diminishing of open spaces
accounts for why you don't see them much in areas that I am most known to frequent.
I remember when we spent summers at Sunnyside Cottages in Boyes Hot Springs, near
Sonoma. We saw lots of butterflies there. I particularly loved the big yellow ones with
black markings. There were also lots of the orange and black monarch butterflies.
I am ashamed to say we used to catch them and mount them, put pins through their
wiggling bodies to attach them to a special board. I still remember how a powdery
substance came off of the wings as we tried to hold them to get the pins in. The very
thought of doing that today makes me cringe. (I just heard a great thing this morning for
teaching children respect for all life. Rather than put a ban on killing bugs, this
mother made a rule--if you kill it, you eat it. That stopped the sadistic killing real
Even gardens that promise to be butterfly lures don't seem to have a lot of the
colorful creatures. It just seems that they are very rare these days.
When I was visiting Texas some years back, my friend Lynn and I went to
Galveston and while there visited Moody Gardens, Galveston's biggest attraction. Two
gigantic pyramids, one for the new aquarium, and one for the Rain Forest, a couple of IMAX
theatres, a science museum, a paddlewheel boat to ride around the gulf on, and perhaps a
few other things.
Since we got there so late, and since it was absolutely mobbed, we only did the rain
forest, but that was terrific. The best part was that exotic butterflies and tropic birds
fly free. They incubate butterfly larvae and twice a day release newly hatched butterflies
into the forest, so it's not unusual for you to walk along and be dive bombed by some
gorgeous creature, living out its brief lifespan giving some pleasure to gawkers like me.
While I was riding around this morning, mulling over the diminished butterfly
population, I remembered a book I bought years and years ago. It's a book of artwork and
poetry done by children at Theresienstadt concentration camp from 1942 to 1944. The title
of the book is I Never Saw Another Butterfly, and it is taken from a line of a
poem by Pavel Friedmann, born in 1921, deported to Terezin on April 26, 1942 and died in
Oswietim on September 29, 1944. The poem was written April 6, 1942:
The last, the very last
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing
against a white stone...
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly 'way up high
It went away I'm sure becuase it wished to
kiss the world goodbye.
For seven weeks I've lived here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live here,
In the ghetto.