It's still all happening at the Winnipeg Assiniboine Park Zoo since 1904.
Saturday, on the last day of the year, 2016, the Zoo is still buried in the Christmas Day blizzard snow. The reindeer romp in the drifts; the cougars sit alert in their corner straw nest; the long legged wolves are silhouettes against the bright grey sky on the elevation of their enclosure; one polar bear lolls in a snow bank, only the black nose and eyes clearly visible. Snow leopards are invisible today. I continue trudging the path.
My destination? The Shirley Richardson Butterfly Garden; the butterfly pavilion. On my last visit here the sun shone brightly though the air was cold and the trees bare. The world was grey with shades and shades of browns, landscape devoid of colour. The butterfly pavilion was stripped of its netting, just the core left locked up. Today it is deep in snow, all paths in buried. But foot prints have broken the snow cover on one.
On a whim I step over the two foot bank edging the pavilion following the tracks. Three steps in, the crust of snow collapses beneath my foot. I fall into the mauled snow. I look up at the ribs of the pavilion structure, the snow bound butterfly garden seat, and summer memories commandeer my head.
I see the garden around the pavillion and the interior itself replete with cosmos, lilies, golden rod, black eyed Susans, milkweed, snapdragons, marigolds, asters, zinnia, and other plants identified with tags. Butterflies dance around inside the enclosure some acrobatically enticing a mate. Under leaves of specific plants and trees small eggs sit ready to hatch into grotesque caterpillars (larva) whose sole purpose is to eat till satiated, ready to become a pupa (chrysalis) the final stage of its metamorphosis before emerging as a butterfly.
The interior of the pavillion is bright, sunshine warming the butterflies drying out their newly extended wings hardening them for flight. The man on a bench watches the fluttering colours and people mesmerized by erratic flight patterns. An intent little boy sticks out his finger and waits. A black and red butterfly alights momentarily. His sister’s finger frightens it away.
A butterfly lands on a lady’s arm right beside me; she is delighted; salt from perspiration on her arm attracts it. A little girl squeals with delight about the butterfly on my hat. Another child cowers at approaching wings. Butterflies cling to the netting of the enclosure, then flitter about to feed on nectar and the ripe fruit on the colourful plates. A magical world.
Melting snow cold down my neck breaks the spell. Staggering slightly to regain a footing, I stumble back to the cleared path thinking of the wise Monarch butterflies migrated thousands kilometers away hibernating in the oyamel trees in Mexico. An approaching family on the snow path look at me bemused, the child pointing at the little old man cocooned in snow. Smiling back I brush off my pants and coat, warm my cheeks with my hands, and think of how the butterfly thoughts have warmed my heart.
Source for all photos: Frank Obrigewitsch, SJ