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Kissing a Butterfly in Colorado's San Juans

Silverton, Colorado. A classic hike up to a glacial lake and cirque sounded good. We used a road rather than a hiking trail in order to get a more open view in the forest. Although there are a lot of motorheads in the San Juans, the ones we encountered were all polite adults.

We got a start still early enough to experience something that should not be interesting, but was: when walking into the morning sun, all of the flying insects were backlighted. They zinged across the glare, like a video game.

But they didn't all zing away. A small, orange butterfly remained on a rock in the middle of the road. Maybe it was too frightened to move; maybe it was just sunning. Then the little poodle quite amazed me by slowly lowering his muzzle to the butterfly, until he and La Mariposa shared a gentle nose kiss.

On the way up to the lake we saw scenery like this:

But since this is the kind of scenery you expect in the San Juan Mountains, it didn't have much effect on me. I was enjoying myself immensely, but the pleasure was coming mainly from the exercise, not from the scenery.

Something about that interaction between dog and butterfly was magical, as if they were in an old fairy tale; the butterfly was a forest nymph or wood sprite in disguise; she whispered some secret suggestion to my unsuspecting dog; and it turned out to be a mischievous trick.

Whatever the explanation is, a year from now I won't remember the San Juan scenery and the perfect weather. But I will remember that serendipitous dalliance of dog and butterfly for the rest of my life.


XXXXX said…
A kiss?
Not likely. Probably just two animals whose instincts told them the other was not a threat.
It is easy to understand how stories of nymphs and wood sprites, etc. came into existence. The human imagination is a curious thing. Fascinatingly entertaining at times but then there are the other times, leading to dire results, and so many believe it to be true and right.
I do understand though what I would guess to be your purpose. Why not allow oneself this harmless abandonment of imagination while hiking? It sure beats reality.
I have been rather fascinated myself with your introduction of the concept of Weltschmerz awhile back. I did not know it had a name. Interestingly, not in the English language however. Is there an English translation? I know there is an English definition, of course, but it is an interesting omission that our culture didn't actually coin our own word for it.
Imagination is indeed more important to a hiker than his boots. Otherwise, you might as well go to the gym at work out on a Stairmaster.

In English, "world-weariness" is a compound word, or phrase. I just like atavistic phrases; before the World Wars, there were so many German scientific and philosophic terms borrowed by English.

XXXXX said…
Ah, but it's what it means that is so interesting and how it is so wonderfully echoed through good fiction. To relive it vicariously is to bring it to the surface once again.
And further wonderment about those who recognize it as perhaps getting to the core of human experience, both in terms of our true (animal) nature as well as our mental ability to actually know this vs. those who never go there, don't want to go there, or are they not even capable of going there (DNA, mild autism, etc.)?
Michael said…
A few thoughts:

1. Some imagination and sentimentality, some fantasy sprinkled in amongst the facts, does indeed add, for most, beauty and intensity to the experience of living. And so long as one guards against such flights of fancy jeopardizing anyone's welfare or integrity, I say, Fancy on!

2. We are in danger of thinking we've learned a new idea when we've merely learned a new word for the familiar idea. A word is a label for a thing, not a thing in itself. "world-weariness" is a compound word, but at a glance it becomes apparent that "weltschmerz" is a compound of "welt" (which means "world") and "schmerz," (which means "pain" or "aching" or "distress") and thus a compound word, too, comprised of two concepts, irrespective of the presence or absence of the hyphen.

And, as a matter of convenience, hyphens tend to drop off with time anyway. Look in books printed a hundred years ago, and you will see words like "to-day" (not "today") and "to-morrow."

I think it's fun and interesting to see how certain ideas and phenomena have been labeled, and addressed, in various cultures--but let us also not mistake learning new or foreign names for learning new ideas or things. If someone hears of "poulet roti" they have not learned any new dish, so long as they are already familiar with roast chicken. Knowing the French name for the dish only means they know one more French term; it does not mean they know another food item.

Indeed, paradoxically, sometimes when an individual or culture most clearly understands a concept or experience it needs no name for it. It is self-evident to the point of seeming silly to call attention to it.

And as to world-weariness the concept, it is as old as humanity, and every culture is quite familiar with one reaction to life. In the cultures influenced by Judeo-Christian scriptures, it is prominent as the overt theme of an entire book of the Bible written two millennia ago--I speak of course of Ecclesiastes. In the past century it has been a prominent theme of much literature, especially poetry and post-war literatures (and, by the way, if a language has a word without a hyphen for "post-war" I wouldn't make too much of it being a new concept).

Indeed, I've seen a video interview of members of a primitive people in the Amazon jungle who explain why so many of them commit suicide--and the sentiments expressed are cleary a form of world-weariness.

Interesting conversation...

'Just Mike stirring the pot. ;)
gypsycowboy said…
"But since this is the kind of scenery you expect in the San Juan Mountains, it didn't have much effect on me. I was enjoying myself immensely, but the pleasure was coming mainly from the exercise, not from the scenery."

hmmm... a difference of perspective. I wonder, looking at the pup and the butterfly alone, or enjoying the exercise immensely ~ without the surrounding scenery ~ wouldn't that be like, looking at the toenails of a beautiful woman, and ignoring the rest? Seems to me that context is a huge part of everything.

***I've got two "google accounts" and I'm logged in working in one area so my ID there changes from the one I generally use but ID's me the same-eventually. You can probably ID me from the dot dot dot anyway! ;)***
That's news to me about the "primitive people in the Amazon jungle" who commit suicide. It certainly doesn't smack of the usual "noble savage" romanticism.
XXXXX said…
Primitive culture is usually less egocentric than our western culture. What counts there is doing your part, contributing to the whole. I don't know anything about their suicide rates but my guess would be that suicide would be higher with egocentric populations.
I also want to make the point that perhaps world-weariness might be given as the cause of a suicide but I would always be suspicious of that. World weariness to me is a relief, sort of a sitting back and accepting the imperfections and instincts of the world and finally giving up on always trying to swim upstream. In other words, it's giving up acting like things are different than they are or should be different than they are and always yearning/striving to make it so. That is so consuming and neurotic.
I don't personally see a relationship between world weariness (my interpretation according to google) and suicide.
gypsyCowboy, I think the human brain looks for surprises, while writing off the expected.
Giving up on swimming upstream. I can see some of that in my own lower expectations for the world.
Michael said…
Yes, Boonie, as with so many maddening other examples, too many people are prone to either-or thinking--in the case of primitive peoples either seeing them as far inferior to modern civilization or as far superior.

The truth, as is most often the case when juxtaposed with either-or thinking, is not only more subtle and complex, but varies greatly depending on which primitive people one is assessing, and which moderns...but also on which of the many arenas of life one is assessing them on.