The spicebush was one of the first butterflies I took a picture of when I started this journey three years ago, and so holds something of a special place in my heart. My sister, with that clear-eyed insight and hard-edged compassion she’s always had, realized I needed something. (Compassion, you might think, is not hard-edged at all; no, it should be soft and warm. Not so. When properly applied, without pity or condescension, it has the density and force of a cheerfully-thrown brick.)
Never much one for gardening herself, she knew my love of dirt and flowers. She hauled me off to the local stores, where we spent a few giddy hours picking out brightly colored things. By the next evening I had a balcony garden, complete with flower boxes, chairs, fairy lights, and a citronella candle in a fat blue pail.
We sat out there, eating ice cream, smacking at the mosquitoes who apparently considered citronella “seasoning,” and watching fireflies. We were both college students, but — “think of it as my birthday present to you,” she said, and dumped a check onto a bookcase.
Although it must have been odd to a butterfly to abruptly happen upon that bit of fanciful color suspended three stories in the air, they quickly adapted and visited my little garden routinely over that long summer. One of those first pictures turned into the front image of my blog. I’ve moved from that place, and the fairy lights are bagged and boxed, awaiting their next destination. But I’ll always associate spicebush swallowtails — always flitting forward even while feeding, their iridescent wings flashing defiantly in the sun (they only resemble a toxic butterfly, but they aren’t poisonous themselves, you see) — with hope and overwhelming kindness.