It’s hard to go anywhere in Southern California right now, and not be taken a bit by the sight of the painted lady butterfly migration. They are everywhere, by the millions, enroute from Mexico to the northwest.
Riding through and among them at roughly 15-20 mph, they hit my helmet, bounce off my hands, and one even ended up in my mouth a couple days ago, but it didn’t stay there long. He was quickly uninvited, and his departure was followed by a long swig of water, a swish, and a spit.
I confess, I’ve become more vulnerable as a cyclist due to the presence of the painted ladies — they’re just captivating. When I should be looking at the road in front of me, spying carpet tacks, thorns, twigs, and bottle caps, I find myself looking up in wonder as they flit about. In some instances the concentrations of painted ladies has been so thick that they’ve appeared as clouds overhead. My eyes fixed to them, I fail to see the aluminum can that my tire will eventually strike. So far so good though — a few bumps, but no bruises and no flat tires at the expense of the painted ladies.
Glancing up at these butterfly clouds, with God present but invisible in the background, I begin to think about consciousness — individual and collective. With so many millions of butterflies, and with me trying so hard not to run into them, I begin to wonder if it hurts when I do hit them. I question whether they feel pain as their wings hit my handlebars or as their bodies get churned up in my spokes.
I contemplate what they might contemplate — or whether contemplate at all. I wonder if they’re looking down to guide themselves and are navigating by landmark or if they’re flying with eyes closed and listening to signals in their head from another source or another dimension. And as they head to their northern destination, I question whether they are thinking at all, and if they do think, do they do so as individuals or as a group…
I understand that some swarm animals — birds, insects, even some migrating mammals can act as a collective during their migrations. They move and respond as a group, but I wonder if there might be discontent in this. Is the butterfly in the back of the swarm sharing an identical thought with a butterfly in the front…? Or, is the butterfly in the back wondering if the Padres are going to make a run at the pennant this year, while the butterfly in front is bitter because he has to do the dirty work by cut through the wind.
When I have stopped at intersections and traffic lights or to drink water, I have attempted to photograph one of these critters. However, they don’t stop that frequently and when they do, it isn’t for very long. They are elusive. To this point, I have only taken one successful photograph, and it’s not that good.
For my part, I’ll just keep pedaling through the painted ladies, dodging them and admiring them — simultaneously, in these waning days of their migration. I’ll try hard not to hit them or breathe one into my mouth again. I’ll continue to spend time wondering if insects think, feel, or have souls at all, as I contemplate this about other animals, to a point of madness most days.
I’ll miss the painted ladies once the migration is through, but I might feel better, at least a little bit, for knowing that I’m not killing any more of them with my helmet, my elbows, and my spokes.
This is what I think about when I ride…
This Week By The Numbers…
Bikes Ridden: 3
15.5 mph avg
Earworm Of The Week: Pretty Pink Rose, by Adrian Belew and David Bowie
Whether you ride a bike or not, thank you for taking the time to ride along with me today. If you haven’t already, please scroll up and subscribe. If you like what you read, give it a like and a share. If not, just keep scrollin’. Oh, and there is this from Adrian Belew and David Bowie. Enjoy…!