Margaret2017webBy Margaret Evans, Editor

I was out walking in my neighborhood last week, fuming about something I’€™d just seen on the news or the Internet or Facebook or who even knows where anymore.

I was walking and fuming, fuming and walking -€“ my hands balled in tight little fists of frustration – probably conjuring a counter-argument to some absurd, dishonest claim I€’d just heard or read -€“ who even knows which one anymore? -€“ when I came upon a big patch of kudzu.

Now, let me just admit something up front: I’€™m fond of kudzu. That confession might get me kicked out of the Society of Good Southern Folk, but it’€™s true. I think kudzu’€™s kind of mysterious and enchanting and I can’€™t help tipping my hat to its stubborn tenacity.

Nevertheless, kudzu is seen as a “€œscourge”€ down here, mainly because of the way it spreads like wildfire and chokes the life out of every growing thing in its path. So while I’€™m naturally drawn to kudzu -€“ on account of it’s pretty -€“ my mind knows better, and whenever I see it, I try to work up an appropriate level of disapproval.

“€œDamn this kudzu,”€ I’€™ll kvetch. “The vine that ate the South,” I’ll grumble. I’€™ll say these things to myself until I begin to believe them.

On this particular morning it was easy, since I was already ticked off at some nasty Internet troll or disingenuous TV pundit or somebody. So I’€™m looking at the kudzu, mustering up as much hatred as I possibly can for something so lush and attractive and lacking in moral agency, when I spot one of the most magnificent butterflies I’€™ve ever seen.

I’m talking about one of those butterflies that’€™s so enormous you think it’s a bird. The kind that seems so substantial and weighty you can’€™t imagine how it’€™s just hanging there in the air . . . can’€™t fathom how the atmosphere is even holding it up. This one was lemon yellow, with black markings and some tail trimmings of brilliant blue.

I stood there marveling at this unlikely creature as it hovered around the dreaded kudzu, treading air. It was oblivious to me, so I managed to snap a few pictures on my phone. With a little research, I would later discover I’d been in the presence of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

(Incidentally, almost every time a butterfly knocks my socks off, it turns out to be some kind of Swallowtail.)

The butterfly eventually fluttered by and I was left, again, to my own devices -€“ left to walk and fume, fume and walk . . . only now, I didn’€™t feel so fumy anymore. That’€™s the nature cure for ya. Works like a charm. This is why I take it daily, as many doses as possible.

But even the nature cure won’€™t switch off the brain entirely, and on this morning I found myself easing gracefully from fuming into musing. In fact, I began slipping into a mental space-time I facetiously think of as Margaret’€™s Moment for Metaphor.

During MMM, I am helplessly driven to interpret even the most mundane experience as a Symbol, a Message, a Life Lesson, or something equally bombastic and pompous. Almost against my will, I began thinking about the kudzu and the butterfly that way. I thought about how the whole world suddenly seems smothered by a rapidly-spreading, life-choking contagion, and yet . . . there is such beauty. Right there in that tangled morass of kudzu, a spectacular butterfly.

This got me thinking about the old adage, “€œDon’€™t miss the forest for the trees.”€ The point of that saying, I guess, is that if you get too caught up in the little details of life, you’€™ll fail to appreciate the big picture. A useful warning, I suppose, depending on the situation.

But as I walked that morning -€“ no longer fuming, just musing -€“ it occurred to me that maybe what the world needs now, besides love sweet love, is the opposite warning: Don’€™t miss the trees for the forest. Or, to update the cliche: Don’€™t miss the butterflies for the kudzu.

I don’€™t have to tell you what I mean by “€œkudzu,”€ metaphorically speaking. You live in the world. You watch the news. You know the kudzu’s spreading faster than Duke’s on white bread in tomato pickin’€™ season.

So fast grows the kudzu, in fact, that I can hardly write about “€œcurrent affairs”€ in this column anymore. We only publish every two weeks, and we have a couple of days between our print deadline and our pub date -€“ so by the time you read this, the kudzu will have spread to parts unknown, in ways I can’t even imagine as I write. To understate the obvious, the kudzu is completely out of control.

Certainly out of my control, anyway.

So I will focus on the butterflies. The “€œforest”€ may be burning, but I will cling like crazy to the trees. Not just the metaphorical trees, either, but the actual trees -€“ each one with its singular, irreplaceable beauty. And in those trees, the birds. I will watch them closely, and with loving care. Not a sparrow will fall to the ground without my knowledge. Not if I can help it.

I’ve grown enamored, this summer, of the tiny Carolina chickadee. I’€™d never really noticed it before; I was all about the fancier birds – the cardinals and blue jays and pileated woodpeckers. But I bought a new feeder recently, and the chickadees have been flocking to it in droves. They tickle me to no end with their wee, spunky selves. And to think I almost missed the joy of knowing them because I just . . . didn’€™t see them. I may be wrong, but I think the Carolina chickadee is actually smaller than the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

Which brings me back to butterflies. Now, I believe, is the time to draw strength from the “€œbutterflies”€ -€“ those flashes of grace that flutter in and out of our lives like unexpected gifts from the universe. They’€™re everywhere, all around us, but we have to pay attention. Maybe it’€™s a kind word from a stranger in the grocery store . . . or the knowing smile of a friend who just read your mind. Maybe it’€™s the cat that jumps in your lap with perfect timing, or the baritone rumble of thunder on a scorched afternoon, or the cardinal on your windowsill, or the sound of your daughter’€™s voice when she calls to say she’€™s on her way home.

Or sometimes, it’€™s literally just a butterfly. But when the whole world’€™s drowning in kudzu, a butterfly can look a lot like a life raft.