The perturbing mystery of metamorphosis

This tiger swallowtail fluttered by in time to pose for today's quote, August 2013

This tiger swallowtail fluttered by in time to pose for today’s quote, August 2013

“The butterfly’s attractiveness derives not only from colors and symmetry:  deeper motives contribute to it.  We would not think them so beautiful if they did not fly, or if they flew straight and briskly like bees, or if they stung, or above all if they did not enact the perturbing mystery of metamorphosis: the latter assumes in our eyes the value of a badly decoded message, a symbol, a sign.” Primo Levi

Today is the birthday of a special person, who is (according to those who know her best) too shy to want her name mentioned here.  She is, however, well known to love butterflies, so today’s post is a birthday tribute to her.

Primo Levi’s intriguing observation about the butterfly is likely influenced by his own survival at Auschwitz, where he may have sought many a “badly decoded message” to keep hope alive until he was able to escape a dark fate that must have seemed inevitable.  On reflection, I agree with him that the butterfly’s transformative life cycle is no small part of its allure and mystique.

If nature brings us messages that transcend the scientific facts related to the wonders of our world, it is no surprise that they are “badly decoded.”  Our methods of interpretation and understanding of such signs are far from perfect.  Perhaps it is equally important — or maybe more so — to take simple delight in those traits of the butterflies that even a child can understand: their random but graceful movements, their intricate patterns and colors, their appreciation of, and dependence on, the flowers that complement their beauty.

Today, I send you a message that will be easy to decode: have a wonder-filled day, especially if it is your birthday!


  1. Larry

    At 530am local time we have looked at your blog and it has started this special day off just right. The beauty of the butterfly is always a welcome sight. This is obvious when you look around the home. Butterfly bushes outside, butterflies on the front porch and even more seen throughout. The emergence of the butterfly from the caterpillar is a cycle of life that some consider a nuisance but then are amazed by the beauty. I too echo the wish for a happy birthday to all having a birthday today.

    • Thanks, Larry! I’m so happy you enjoyed it! 🙂

  2. Sheila

    Happy Birthday to a very special lady, I’m sure. I hope your special day finds you “fluttering” from one fun thing to another. From one butterfly lover to another, Sheila

    • Hey Sheila, come to think of it, when is YOUR birthday? (You can email it to me if you don’t want to publish it – and leave off the year too if you want! 🙂

      • Sheila

        Julia, I really don’t mind sharing but it may come as a surprise. Well, just that it’s so close to little Grady’s arrival. My 65th birthday was July 29th. I’m ok with it, actually it feels just right. We’re at WillowTree….. wish y’all were here! Love, Sheila

        • WOW Sheila, congratulations and I’m sorry I missed your day! Happy Belated Birthday! I agree that being 65 years young (as you are) sounds just right for you. If this blog is still going by next July 29th, we may have to have a surprise birthday tribute that day too! I wish we could be there at Willow Tree with you too (sigh) maybe someday – in the meantime, have some extra fun for us!

  3. HarryS

    A couple of years ago I decided I would plant a butterfly bush. I shopped for it at the nursery and took it up to Lake Sinclair where it was to be planted. I carefully prepared the ground where he was to be planted. I dug the hole, took the plant out of the container and carefully placed it in the hole and backfilled it with dirt. I carefully mulched around it and set a watering hose in place to keep it moist during its transplantation stage.

    Than I stepped back a few feet to gaze, assess and admire. Something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. It was a beautiful butterfly fluttering around. It fluttered and descended and lit upon the butterfly plant.

    Need I say what a heart feeling I had at this moment?

    I have learned, I am happy to say to be expectant and watchful for the manifestations of my HOLY CREATOR.

    • That must have been a thrill for sure. I hope you have many more winged visitors to enjoy your hospitality! Thanks for sharing that story.

  4. Hope the birthday mystery gal has a perfectly beautiful day, and like the beautiful Swallowtail will stop to smell the roses.

    • Thanks Boomdee! I know she will appreciate your birthday wishes. If I’d had time, I would have tried to make a copy of one of your amazingly beautiful cards for her!!

  5. Mike Bertoglio

    If butterflies stung I would probably still love them. I have been stung by many living creatures in life and most of them I still admire. It’s a small price to pay for redemption.
    And I hope this is not a “badly decoded message” if you get my drift. But I have been accused of decoding badly in the past.

    • I think we all decode badly, but I think it’s better to at least give it a shot! As for myself, I try to be as clear as possible when I talk or write, which usually results in too many words. RE: if butterflies stung – I agree – in fact, I love the bees and they are really crazy about my Walker’s Catmint. I can hardly weed that bed for fear of making them angry!

  6. Mike Bertoglio

    Don’t you wish that God was not so “badly decoded.”

    • Yes, but probably not half as much as God does! 🙂 Still, we can count on mercies that are “new every morning.”

  7. merry

    Please give the birthday girl a big hug for me!! :~}
    I like butterflies too.

    • I will, Merry! I am a butterfly fan too. My mother used to have a collection of butterfly pins (not real ones, just costume jewelry) and sometimes she would pin one on her shoulder as if it had just landed there. Funny how little memories like that stick with us. Thanks for being here and I hope you have a lovely weekend!

  8. maggie clure

    Hi, Julia! I am a butterfly fan also. I believe it was an UR devotional about the butterfly transition from the cocoon into the beautifully colored, dainty butterfly. The writer likened the metamorphosis much like us with our human struggles during out lifetime and then God gives us a beautiful new body!! How wonderful!! Jeff, Matt and you continue to be in my prayers!! Have a blessed
    Labor Day weekend!

    • Thank you, Maggie – I hope you and your family have a nice holiday too. I appreciate your visits here, and your comments!

  9. Sheila

    Julia, I’m late! I’ve been outside with Bill and our friends PLAYING… haha. I am loving this blog. Thank you so much. Love, Sheila

    • You are welcome, I am so happy you like it! Y’all have lots of fun!


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