I’m surrounded by butterflies—sapphire Blue Morphos, frilly orange-white-black Lacewings, black Cattlehearts splotched red and white, bark-colored Owls flashing camouflage yellow-black eye-spots. They flit and flutter from orange and pink kalanchoes to a stand of rotting bananas to green cinderblock walls to more delectable flowers, sipping nectar through wiry black proboscises, wings beating as they sup.
It’s warm and humid inside The Butterfly Place in Westford, Mass., the perfect environment for butterflies and a great place for perpetually cold me on this crisp spring day that is my birthday. I snap digital photos, trying not to drop the camera, trying not to step on the Blue Morpho that has settled on the ground or the tiny, wingless birds that skitter under green foliage. One butterfly alights on my hand, briefly; another, on my sweater and crawls upward, staring at me with bug-eyed intensity until I shake it off.
A black butterfly shoves another off a flower, and I wonder how much I don’t know about these beautiful creatures. The Blue Morphos swirl in packs while other species fly alone. There is constant motion and competition for food. And there are butterflies with broken wings. This amazes me. I always thought a broken wing meant certain death. But, no, there are dozens with damage, still feeding and flying. I hesitate to take their pictures, wanting only perfection. Then I realize, how ridiculous. Beauty isn’t defined that way.
Later, I wander through exhibits in Lowell’s American Textile History Museum, fingering fabric, trying my hand at weaving on a small loom, learning how much labor went into making linen, wool, cotton and silk over centuries. I think about how grateful I am to be living here, now, and wonder how I would have survived—or not—in earlier eras, when so much work depended on manual dexterity and physical stamina.
I learn about cellos made from black carbon mesh and how many years it takes to grow organic cotton with natural color variation. And I learn about baseballs—how the cork and rubber pill is wound with 219 yards of three types of wool of specific, varying ply and color, plus a final 150 yards of white cotton-polyester yarn.
It’s the wool that gives a baseball its resilience. When the ball is struck, it wraps partly around the wooden bat, then snaps back into shape as it sails across the ball field. That’s how baseballs stay round, though bashed over and over.
When I get home, I notice a baseball lying on our back deck, hit there by one of our neighbor’s kids. No broken windows or smashed shingles. The ball is a bit smudged with dirt. I’ll toss it back when I get a chance, as I have many times, and watch it land with a soft thunk in their yard.
I’m 58 years old. I’ve had scleroderma for three decades. I’m glad to be here.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.