Glasswings A Butterfly’s Story
By Elisa Kleven
I’ve been fascinated with butterflies for quite a few years now and the reason is a pretty miraculous story that I may share sometime, but that aside, butterflies are mesmerizing and beautiful to watch. Their whole life cycle, in fact, intrigues me as they stay within their chrysalis for a very definite period of time, beating their wings against the interior until they are strong enough to force it open. It seems it is the very repetitive action of the constant beating that makes them not just strong enough to free themselves, but also to develop the strength within their wings, to allow them to fly. It’s sort of akin to “no pain no gain”.
Elisa Kleven has written the story of Claire a glasswings butterfly. In her “Note on Glasswings and Pollination” at the start of her book, she states that although Claire, her heroine, is make-believe, glasswings are NOT. They exist and are very hard to spot, for unlike monarchs and swallowtails, these are nearly invisible to the eye! They are, as she describes them, “clear as glass, lacking the colored scales which give other butterflies their brilliant hues and patterns.” In Central and South America, they are referred to as “Espejitos or Little Mirrors. But don’t let the diminutive nickname fool you; they are strong winged butterflies that are able to go long distances.
Attracted to flowers like others of their species, they feed on the nectar of the flower. As the pollen sticks to their legs, they travel from flower to flower, allowing the plant to produce seeds and new plants to continue their cycle. Kind of important little pollinators, aren’t they, with a mighty big job for ones that looks so fragile? Wonder if that is the reason, in some circles, that the butterfly is seen as a symbol of rebirth?
Enter Claire, the glasswing butterfly. Imagine going through life as invisible and unseen! Well, I guess it does have some advantages, but seriously, how do you make yourself visible to the world to prove you exist? Here is where Ms. Kleven’s Claire soars. She unwittingly reflects the colors of ALL the things on which she alights. Taking on the rainbow-striped sky as she soars past its arc, she is as green as the forest floor and the ferns on which she alights. Sipping the nectar through her proboscis or sipping straw of a nose, she can take on the coral coloration of the flower she pollinates.
Things are fine and dandy when Claire is in her comfort zone in the forest, but what happens when a spiraling gust of wind blows her off course to the city? Will she still be seen? Hey, Claire don’t listen to the naysayer pigeons, ants and ladybugs that talk of invisibility amidst the grayness of the city sidewalks! But Claire, thank goodness, is filled with a positivity that allows her to adapt to the colors of this new environment. She can take on the red of traffic lights, the yellow of taxis or even the green of a soda can to be visible. Suddenly these Negative Nellies, aka pigeon, ant and ladybug, are suddenly on board with helping Claire find food and a way home.
First stop is a rather bedraggled urban garden in a small lot. Claire drinks from a flower and feels a bit better. But what about the other three urban dwellers; can’t they contribute to bringing this garden back to life too? Don’t ladybugs eat garden pests, pigeons can certainly scatter seeds if they’ve a mind to and ants, well, they can stir up the soil, right?
Amid all her hard work, Claire is taking on all the colors of a flowery butterfly of the garden she’s helped renew! Will she be seen by anyone? YES! A cloud of glasswings descend on this urban setting to prove to Claire that you have to grow where you’re planted in order to be seen! Atta girl, Claire! But wait! I haven’t even gotten to Ms. Kleven’s amazing artistry in defining Claire’s two very different homes. Whether she’s painting a flower-filled forest dwelling or a muted urban landscape that bursts into color over time, her narrative and art dovetail beautifully with Claire as the constant.
What a great lesson for kids to learn along with Claire to show that invisibility is a state of mind. No matter the environment we find ourselves a part of, we can contribute something of ourselves, to be fully present and visible in order to make a difference in the world.
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