By now, you’ve no doubt seen countless pictures of the damage Hurricane Irma caused here in Florida. While the ultimate outcome was so much better than it could have been (nothing will scare a Floridian more than, “Category 5 headed your way”), the storm certainly did a number on us. The agonizing hours as we waited for the storm to hit, and then waited for it to pass, seem to stretch out interminably. Right in the middle of the strongest part of the storm, though, I had a very unexpected visitor – this White Peacock butterfly.
It’s hard to describe what it’s like waiting for the storm to hit. You know it’s coming. You’re prepared. You have water, food, batteries, and plenty of reading material to keep you busy. You know where you’ll shelter in your house if need be. But once all that prep work is finished, there’s nothing to do but watch the news and wait. And wait. And wait. We were one of the fortunate ones – we never lost power. But even with Netflix to distract us, our minds were constantly on the storm outside. Once it grew dark, there was nothing to see out the windows. Only the sound of the wind to drive the imagination wild.
Here in Tampa, the worst of the storm came through between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. The eye ended up going about 50 miles east (a true blessing, since if it were closer to the coast the storm would have been much stronger), and as it did, the winds reached their peak. Hurricanes bring their weather in bands or “squalls,” so there are brief breaks in between the worst of it until the eye arrives. During one of those lulls, I couldn’t stand not knowing what was going on out there. Cautiously, I cracked open the front door to take a look. The draft swept in about a dozen gnats and tiny moths – and something larger bounced off my head. I closed the door quickly and looked around.
There, up on my ceiling, was this White Peacock butterfly. It had clearly been sheltering in the area under the eaves by our front door, and was blown in by the draft. Most butterflies simply seek shelter during a storm, and some even enter a dormant-like state to conserve energy. This one chose my front porch for protection. My husband and I stood stock-still, staring up at this fragile creature that had weathered the immense power of Hurricane Irma seemingly unscathed so far. It was a ray of hope and beauty in the midst of wind-torn chaos.
Having worked with butterflies for years, I had supplies on hand to help it out. I carefully caught it and placed it in a pop-up net container, and gave it half a peach in case it was hungry (fruit juice is an excellent substitute for nectar). Then, we placed it up high to keep the cats away. Frankly, we could have released it back onto the front porch, and it would most likely have quickly found shelter again. Somehow, though, no matter how illogical, I felt responsible for this creature until the storm ended. So it joined two humans and four cats waiting for the fury of Hurricane Irma to roar past.
When we ventured out the morning after, we expected to sun to rise on scenes of devastation. Instead, aside from a pine tree that had fallen near our lake, everything looked just as usual. There were some palm fronds down, and our lake level was high, but that happens here during normal summer storms. If we hadn’t lived through the prior 24 hours, we’d never know a major hurricane had just been through. We were incredibly fortunate, and we certainly knew it.
In the afternoon, when the last gusty winds finally died down, we released the butterfly. It flew off quickly, joining a few other butterflies already visiting the remaining flowers in my backyard.
Hurricane Irma left its impacts all over the state, but there’s hope and optimism around every corner. Strangers become friends, those who fared well sharing and lending aid to those who did not. You’ll see plenty of stories of destruction on the news, but know that here in Florida, there’s an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all that was not lost. Life is disrupted, and difficult now for many, but we’re all still here. And so are the butterflies.