The Day I Saw the Beauty
by Alan Roberton
It was almost exactly 50 years ago when I first became fascinated by butterflies. I was 8 years old and lived in South East London/North West Kent. There was a boy a little older than me who lived over the road. One day he asked me if I would like to come butterfly collecting with him and eagerly I agreed. We went out and 'collected' several butterflies using his huge net. He would run and chase and swoop and catch. The butterflies went into his 'killing jar' and then he took them home and pinned them to his cork board. As an 8 year old I thought this was wonderful and, although I didn't actually kill and pin any butterflies at that time, over the next few years I slowly began to copy my friend. I remember getting an old jam jar and putting a wodge of cotton wool laced with 'Thawpit' in the bottom and then covered that with a piece of lint. I would go out and catch all the usual meadow butterflies, including Meadow Browns, Skippers, Whites, some Blues (mainly common Blues), Small Tortoiseshells etc. etc. Gradually my collection grew.
It was when I was 10 that something unexpected happened. I was in my favourite meadow when I spotted my very first Comma. I netted it very easily, too easily I feel, and it went into my killing jar. I watched as the Comma began to lose consciousness, but instead of feeling pleased with myself, I suddenly felt I was doing something very wrong. I remember thinking, "Here I am with a thing of beauty and I was killing it." This realisation hit me hard and immediately I took the lid off the jar and tipped the Comma into my hand. I remember there being tears in my eyes as I watched, thinking it was too late and that the butterfly had died. However, slowly the wings began to quiver as the life began to circulate through its body. After a minute or so the butterfly had recovered enough and took off and went back to exactly where I netted it. I watched and after a few minutes realised that I was getting far more pleasure from watching than I ever did from 'collecting'. From that moment I never killed another butterfly, from that moment I realised that the beauty was not just the butterfly, but the whole scene. The meadow, the butterflies, the bees, grasses, wild flowers, insects, birds and trees, indeed everything nature provided. I truly believe that on that day, I grew up and accepted my responsibility as a human, because it opened my eyes to the wonderful world of nature.
After that I would seek out butterflies, indeed I would sometimes get on my bike and travel several miles just to find something new, but never to destroy, always to enjoy. I also remember going out in the early evenings with my powerful torch to spot moths, such happy memories. Whilst I regret killing those butterflies when I was young and foolish, it did, in some perverse way, show me how to really appreciate nature in a way I never previously understood.
Over the years I have expanded my 'nature studies' and can now enjoy them even more as I live in West Wales surrounded by birds and butterflies and wild flowers and peace and quiet. Now I 'catch' wildlife through my camera lens, now digital has come about, and can often been seen on my local coastal path with my camera, usually snapping away at the local birdlife. However, it is always the butterflies that set my pulses racing. Last year I saw my first ever, believe it or not, Clouded Yellow, and suddenly I was that 10 year old again watching the Comma as it 'did its rounds'. The feeling of intense joy I get from just watching and photographing butterflies is indescribable and thanks to that Comma and my awakening I shall continue to watch and be excited by nature as long as I can.
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