11:24:48 am on
Tuesday 23 Jul 2024

Butterfly Watching
David Simmonds

Butterfly watching club at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio butterfly garden (c) Khew Sk

That wasn’t much of a summer to write home about, was it? All the ingredients were there, with the exception of the key one, that is, summer weather. It almost makes you nostalgic for scorched earth.

So went summer 2017.

We had to take our pleasures where we could get them. Like the Tuesday evening gazebo concerts by Lions Club, our officially-blessed-by-royalty farmers market, or, for me, simply sitting on my back porch, spending a quiet hour watching the action around our butterfly bushes. That was my summer of 2017.

I mean action around the butterfly bushes. From early August, the nectar in the blossoms of our butterfly drew dozens of butterflies. It was mostly Monarchs, this summer.

Butterflies are fun to watch. They don’t seem to mind the nearby presence of people. When you watch them closely, you realize that there is some method in their seemingly erratic movements.

There is competition for prime feeding spots. I could swear I also watched two, presumably gentlemanly butterflies, fight for the right to reproduce the species with a lady butterfly, with the alpha male butterfly naturally winning the skirmish. I also learned about the Hummingbird Moth, of which I had never heard, but to understate the fact, I am no biologist, so don’t read anything into that.

Butterflies are easier to watch than are birds.

I suppose you can get the same sorts of thrills from watching birds and gardens. Still, birds tend to me more skittish around people and gardens aren’t exactly the scenes of a lot of real time action. I decided butterfly bushes are my favourite form of quiet summer entertainment.

Of course, there is always a negative side. Go to the internet and you will find such titles as, “Why ecologists hate butterfly bush.” Apparently, the butterfly bush is not native to North America and thus regarded, in some quarters, as a noxious weed.

Critics say that although the butterfly bush provides lots of nectar for fully-fledged butterflies, it does nothing to help larvae. Some hope is on the horizon. A hybrid bush that contains little or no seed is gaining acceptance

If you’re looking for another reason to like watching butterflies, they have such a great name for butterfly collectors: lepidopterists. Someone should come up with a name that, as ‘birder,’ describes a person keen on the subject, but doesn’t collect any specimen. “Lepidopteran’ sounds a little prissy, but it would look good on a business card; “butterflyer,” as “birder,” might be all right except that it might be confused with those in the aerial dairy field.

The thing that I enjoy most about watching the butterflies is the fact that, despite the frenetic action, it all takes place in silence. There is no such thing as the ‘mating call of the lesser spotted Monarch.’ Nor do Monarchs listen to blaring radios while they are out doing their chores.

No, butterflies just go about their business. Of course, there are many other activities I could enjoy in total silence; say, sitting in my driveway watching my car depreciate, but butterfly watching has a behavioural aspect to it that watching a stationary car somehow does not.

When I say “silence,” I admit that’s a relative term. It’s hard to say there is “silence,” when the sounds of traffic and lawnmowers fill the air. I really mean to say that butterflies don’t contribute anything to the ambient noise level.

You could say that watching butterflies has given me a new appreciation of the value of silence. Perhaps Wellington should invest time in the promotion of a ‘quiet hour.’ For that blissful period, traffic, somehow, would stop on the Loyalist Parkway and lawnmowers rested.

How a Quiet Hour works.

During the Quiet Hour, people would engage in low-key activities, such as counting their blessings or meditating or solving the cryptic crossword, in the Wellington Times. They would still make tea, but they would make sure their kettles didn’t whistle loudly or for too long. I’m not suggesting this be enforceable with penalties for non-compliance. It’s just an idea.

The riposte to my musing is easy to anticipate. If you wanted silence, many will tell me, you should have come here anytime other than summer ten years ago. Even now, all you have to is wait until November. Be grateful for the noise. It’s a sign of human activity. This is true as far as it goes, I guess, but no help during butterfly season.

I suppose I am going to have to widen my field of interests and develop a pastime that takes me beyond butterfly season and through the rest of year. Maybe I should investigate and see if there’s a local automobile depreciation-watching club, which I could join.


Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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