unless Soul clap its hands and sing
—William Butler Yeats
Researchers found that the small cabbage white butterfly likely originated in eastern Europe and then spread into Asia and Siberia when trade was increasing along the Silk Road.
from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
I suppose it’s the name, not the butterfly’s, that caught me first, Silk Road. Then the butterfly’s, lowly cabbage-eater I keep imagining clinging, white-winged and green speckle-eyed, to a shining hem or a sleeve woven from a silk cocoon some ancient silk farmer boiled just before the silk worm’s emergence. That strand of silk, kept intact by that farmer’s boiling, spun longer than this walking path in a sunken canyon, itself millions of years old. And that Silk Road? Some seven thousand miles away and gone centuries with ancient dynasties and Ottoman Empires and Xanadu courts. Where was I now? With an ancient farmer eating a boiled silkworm and a cabbage white butterfly stowing itself away across worlds and tall ships and iron horses to be, here, with me. No wonder Leonard calls me from sleep at three a.m., no moon for a poet, to stand groggy and awed on a cabin porch beneath a universe called Observable, despite the billions of galaxies we still can’t see spiraling over the Milky Way— our Scattered Straw, our Silver River, Way of Birds. And so. It’s the cabbage white butterfly I am thinking of because a Master Birder told me of beautiful birds in a canyon and I went, to catch in singing the White-throated Swift or the Lazuli Bunting or the Plumbeous Vireo I could hang extant in a simple black frame by my kitchen window. But all I could find was a butterfly, plain as a moth and hanging upside down on a purple weed. Instar is a molting, I have read, the cabbage white butterfly’s exoskeleton shed every time for something new. Now the head black. Now the yellow clypeus of the face. Now those tiny green dots I love.