As I type this at the studio table, I am looking out my big picture window into my little green corner of heaven here in Phoenix. To all my East Coast friends, you might be surprised to learn I have a lovely green, grass back yard with palm trees, mountains in almost every direction, two very large Saguaro cacti, orange and lemon trees, palo verde, mesquite, and lots of flowering bushes in magenta, pale pink, yellow, orange, and purple.
We live just feet away from South Mountain Park, which is the largest municipal park in the United States. Various sized lizards are climbing my walls, and my neighbors doorbell cam caught a pack of javelinas knocking over their trash. (Don’t ask me about the mountain lions, bob cats, or scorpions). These past few mornings I have felt like I live in a bird sanctuary…there is a choir singing outside right now. In the corner of the yard are two quail with a bevy of little babes that march around the boarder of the wall throughout the day. They are my new favorite bird.
Sometimes at night I have to stay outside with my little Shih Tzu, Ellie, because two huge owls like to sit on a nearby roof peak. She would just be a tasty nighttime snack, I fear, and I giggle thinking what I’d actually do if one were to dive bomb. I’m not so good in panic situations.
But the butterflies and hummingbirds are constantly dancing into view each day…almost year round. It is 86 today and not a cloud in the bright blue sky. I feel connected to something greater than myself (and maybe reminding myself I’m equally GREAT) as I observe my little window of nature. Each time I see one of these delicate creatures flutter by, I smile inside. A few months ago I felt an urge to paint the hummingbirds despite the fact that I haven’t painted much realism in over 30 years. I am glad I listened to that little voice because so many of you connected with the paintings and they have since become part of your own stories.
This latest little collection was born from a place of remembering my sister, Jill. I write of her so often that I sometimes wonder if folks get tired of it. But for me, I still feel like it was yesterday instead of 11 years ago. I comfort myself thinking if my words help even one person feel validated or need permission to keep talking about the ones they’ve lost, then its worth the risk of repeating myself. I am one of those people who are always looking for signs. They comfort me and remind me that there might be forces at work we can not yet explain through science.
This symbol of comfort is far from being a new concept. In Central America, there were people called the Teotihuacan who associated butterflies with their ancestors and held their feast to honor the sun. They offered incense to an image of the sun dedicated as a butterfly in a golden circle with radiant beams of golden light.
It is also written that for the ancient Aztecs, butterflies were symbols of comfort and were sent from their ancestors and close relatives who have passed to give them comfort. In Japan, butterflies are viewed as souls, and many believed the spirits of the dead take the form of a butterfly when they travel to the metaphysical world of eternal life.
In ancient times, many cultures believed butterflies represented the soul. Ancient Egyptians believed butterflies awaited you in the afterlife, and the ancient Greek word for butterfly is literally psych which means soul.
One of my favorite stories is from the Pueblo people. They have a creator legend about butterflies. The story goes that the creator grabbed all the most beautiful colors in the world and put them in a sack. Then he brought the magical sack to the children who wanted to see what was inside. When the creator opened the bag, the butterflies flew out singing songs. But the birds became jealous, so the creator let the butterflies keep their colors and the birds their songs.
I find peace turning to nature and the daily miracles surrounding us if we take the time to see. My wind chime engraved with Jill and Olive’s names sings gently in the breeze accompanied by the tweets, coos, chirps, and whistles in my yard. Several different kinds of butterflies have come into view while typing this. Hummingbirds are gathering up the last of the orange blossom nectar and a female cardinal JUST NOW landed on my outdoor easel. Hand to God. I can hardly believe what I just saw. I tried to grab a picture to show you but she flew away just as I clicked the button.