“Scales” are usually something we think of as belonging to fish, reptiles, dragons, or knights in shining armor. But butterflies have scales too. In fact, butterflies get their shimmery quality from thousands of tiny scales that line their wings, reflecting light at various angles. This trait is one the things that makes them unique among all insects:
We must define butterflies and moths as the flying land insects with complete metamorphosis . . . with four wings covered with colored scales. (1)
Scales are even included in their scientific name:
The order Lepidoptera includes butterflies AND moths. It comes from the Greek word for scales lepidos and the word for wings ptera
There are 150,000+ species of Lepidoptera (~20,000 of these are butterflies), and we continually discover new species. And each has a different pattern of uniquely shaped scales, which can be “Circular, like fish scales, long and thin, slate-like, arrow-like with a tooth-edged tail, or fan-like, resembling a palm leaf” (1). Moth scales are not uniformly shaped, even "hairy", whereas butterfly scales are more uniform (2). The scales contain complex chemical compounds that make color pigments or 'paints' that give color to the wings and sometimes also contain vitamins for the butterfly's growth.
What can this tell us all? That beautiful things, or strong things are made up of many parts? That as small pieces come together, larger patterns are revealed? Or that the variety of overlapping scales in their reflection of light make something singular and glimmering? Please post your own ideas in the comments.
And what, exactly, do these scales look like, up close? We absolutely enjoyed this awesome video by Smarter Every Day, exploring just this:
(1) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Butterflies & Moths by Dr. V. J. Stanek, 1977. Pages 7-11.
(2) Butterflies and Moths, A Golden Guide. Western Publishing Company, Inc. 1977.
The idea of a “show” in 2013 sent me jumping to my feet, eager to create a visual, auditory, sensory experience of art and music, to gather beautiful and interesting ideas and present them in a connected hour, when our collective existence would feel acknowledged and special—a time to not just go through the motions of everyday life, but to marvel at the wonder of being on the planet.
So began the careful threading together of pieces: Caroline’s initial story inspired by a dream, Anna’s silver gossamer wings she ordered from a wing-maker in Egypt, Emily’s courageous movement through everyday life and twirling partners into easy collaboration and onto stages, Chris’ lyrical melodies and poetic words winding their way through the strings of the guitar, Emily A.’s creation of incredible art as the logical next step of any idea, Bo’s earthy voice and bluesy, soulful songs, Sophie’s spoken word forceful and strong like her spirit and delivered in perfect cadence, Alex’s wit and penchant for secretly-transforming-the-world art collaboration, Benjamin’s clear voice drawing upon generations of song to call on our humanity. Then there were the many friends and strangers who chose to step aboard the ship as it was constructed, out of thin air, out of ideas, out of paper, out of whistling, and paint, nighttime jokes, daytime secret meetings before work, making lists and catching up, and the impending self-imposed deadline of our first performance in a tiny theater.
Theater is the natural uniting of the performing arts, and so in some ways the most giving, and the most taxing. Collectively we spent hundreds of hours gathering things, making things, organizing things, recruiting people, updating our email list, dreaming. Many of us spent even more time, in the darkness of the nights, sewing, writing, rehearsing. Somehow we knew it was in the service of a worthy project.
Over time, the Butterfly Ship became our ship. The creators felt like we ourselves were stepping aboard the wooden deck, the creaking but very solid boards. We sensed the acrobatic pirates somersaulting from bow to stern, singing. We felt the slight change in air pressure as hundreds of butterflies gathered and dispersed overhead, in an ever-changing pattern. We got to know parts of the ship over the months of its creation, the round jewels pressed into the hull, its tall masts, sometimes the sides of the ship taking on a gleaming quality like the tiny scales adorning the wings of lepidoptera. And the ship kept taking on more passengers. Caroline said, “The story has a life of its own now. We have to let it go. It will keep changing, and evolving.” The vessel that attracted butterflies on a great migration to the Sun, was sailing us through our own metamorphosis, and was itself undergoing transformation. Maybe you get on board for a wee jaunt over the ocean, but this boat has another idea in mind: spread your own wings.
I have spent a lot of energy trying to express myself through languages at first unknown to me (e.g. working jobs in various fields, or having a social presence in this online world). Feels like trying to articulate myself in German, or Zulu, or Japanese. It is a struggle, but I’m smart, so I try and I buck up and have confidence. But how much of the journey is supposed to flow easily? How much of our skill set is supposed to just present itself? Maybe this is growing up, learning the balance of pursuing, working, and letting inspiration come. At first, we’re disappointed when the cork gets even momentarily put in the bottle of inspiration. Blame it on circumstance, on ourselves, or on others. But as we go further, we get used to continuing, ignoring the interruption, still doggedly continuing. From here we learn the greatest lesson: that not all is threatened if the stopper is put in that bottle, but that it’s our work to slyly ease the cork out again; inspiration is just around the corner.
This is the history of The Butterfly Ship’s initial voyage into collaboration. The picture is still rough, its paper pieces overlapped and torn, like a map glued together with paste, but the treasure to which the path leads is ever-flowing. As the map becomes clearer, new destinations appear, toward deeper and fuller expressions of our selves. Can we not accept the call?
Somewhere in me, there is the fascination with the natural world, this crazy world in which we find ourselves. A planet ever-growing, leaves tumbling out of stems, trees with their desire to grow up, up straight, and amidst all of this, people marking designs on the canvas of the Earth, circles and triangles pushed into the damp fine earth—we humans cannot help but believe we have something to offer. How many designs have already been implemented by nature, in the micro, in the macro? Still, our drive to create, to offer something to Eternity, or just to the mind-bending fact that we exist, feels the most noble of things we could do.
This is what I hope for in the next steps of The Butterfly Ship: that with a sense of humor, with tenacity of spirit, and some know-how from our experience (nautical knot-tying wisdom), this project will offer all of us—artist or audience member—a channel to a world where we feel free to imagine things that improve our real-life experience. That we don’t forget to use our physical reality to create, to dance, to write, to sing, to sculpt. To know that we have ‘agency’ in this world; to understand our place on a vibrant planet, and how the very tiniest of beings may intimately affect our our well-being, our sustenance, our nourishment (just as a pollinator—dare I say, a butterfly?—touches our crops so they bear fruit). And most of all, that we do not forget the power of our imaginations. Nature’s shapes can be re-expressed, and the urge to create something new is the most beautiful of impulses. We do have something to give. Go forth, fellow sailors!
WINGS Publication reflects on the human experience through language. It is the literary expression of our performance group "The Butterfly Ship". Here you will find articles by members of our crew and guest writers, on themes which contribute to the 'building' of the vessel with which we will sail to the sun....