Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Maybe The Butterflies Know
By Tony Rauch

I step out of an old tree house. I stand on a rickety little deck and look around in wonder. Where am I? How did I get here? The tree house is tilting in a broken lean on a thick branch way up in the air. The structure’s wood is weathered gray and rotting. The railing is twisted and falling apart. What am I doing here? I’m not mad or scared or confused or anything, I’m just curious. Heck, it’s a nice, warm, calm, sunny summer morning - why not be way high up in a tree house out in the middle of a field of blowing, tall grass.

The wood fascinates me. I reach to touch it, then rub it. It has many old nail holes. Looks like wood from another time, re-used here up in this tree - ancient wood planks, probably rescued from sinking old barns, hidden barns covered by underbrush and tall leaning trees. Distant barns from other ages, secret eras, hidden hours, years long forgotten, times whose use has long since faded - times given up for us to share here. Wood from secret days, saved and reassembled here - to protect those times, so they can live on, so they can see more times to come, so they can build more times, times for us to share together.

I step from the rickety little deck and up onto a branch. I inspect my new surroundings, up and down and all around. Thick branches crisscross overhead and underneath. Misty gray and white strands of clouds pass above and below to reveal that I’m on a branch leaning over a long stretch of brilliantly gleaming chartreuse marshlands. Glints of the bright sun flicker in the dark water through the tall grass. It seems I’m up in a tall, thin tree in a wetland. A bright blue stream winds through the grass below. The stream is freckled with smooth, gray stones. Other tall trees dot the landscape around me, sprinkled like regrets that’ve never been resolved. The trunks rise in thin winding stocks with plumes of branches and clumps of leaves puffing here and there on their way into the sky. The trees grow like billowing sighs of relief. Some of the smaller ones are swaying in the breeze down below.

Suddenly a little butterfly appears in the distance. It meanders closer, drifting on the wind. As it flutters through the cloudy haze, it doesn’t turn out to be a small butterfly at all. It lazily floats over to me, revealing itself as a giant butterfly with gloriously translucent wings that glow florid colors in the sunlight. I wave my arms to signal it, to greet it.

It twitters up to me unevenly, slowly flapping its large, stained-glass wings. I smile. I want to reach out and pat its back, for it is a huge, delicate thing bobbing before me. Its body is the size of a large couch, each kaleidoscope wing slowly waving - each delicate wing like a colorful sail, each the size of a child’s bedroom. I crawl further out onto the limb, beaming at its beauty, marveling at its wonder. I stretch and reach. One of its fuzzy legs extends to wrap around me and gather me in, pulling me over and depositing me gently onto its back. I am in mid-air, bobbing on the back of a giant butterfly - ten feet long with sail-like wings flapping.

I smile bigger, clinging tightly as we drift away, slowly floating down to the bright green grass and gleaming clean water. We dive through the long flowing grass and swing around the tall tree trunks that rise all around. I hold on tight as we wave and undulate in the wind, floating between the winding stalks of trees.

I start to notice more old tree houses. They are up in the branches, behind plumes of deep green leaves. They are little shanties obscured within deep shadows, exactly like the one I found myself in - dilapidated, leaning, barely clinging to their limbs. Decks and catwalks crisscross the branches with twine webbing as railings. These are faded memories of shacks - old wood struggling to be huts. Many are simply gutted shells and outlines, some with just a few gray boards left here and there as empty frames, clinging, forgotten. Some trees don’t have any houses at all, others have only one, hidden away behind shadows and years of leaves. Still other trees have several little old houses - two and three, then four and five, clinging to the trunks at the intersection of limbs, an entire ancient village, now falling apart, empty and forgotten. Suddenly I think I notice a figure in one of the windows. A shadow, a person. A faint shadow within a faint shadow. And then another.

Wind rushes through my hair as we rise and drop, riding on breaths of wind. The clear breeze cleanses my face, my arms, my eyes, as we circle around back to the shadow in the window. A person slowly, reluctantly appears out from an old tree house. And then another from the next tree over. They step out slowly, with confused expressions. They look around. “Hey,” I wave as we bob in the air before them. “Hello!” I call, but they do not answer. “Come on,” I wave them over. Suddenly another giant butterfly floats up beside me from below. I wave them over and gradually each of them inches closer to the edges of the dilapidated decks.

“Where . . Where are we?” one of them calls out to me.

“I don’t know.” I shout back, “Come on, maybe the butterflies know,” I wave them closer and eventually they each crawl out onto a limb and then carefully climb aboard the other butterfly. “It seems I just appeared here,” I call over to them and smirk. “I just appeared in one of the tree houses as if from out of nowhere. And I have no idea where I could be or what I’m supposed to do here.”

We turn and drift off, dipping under branches and between the puffs of leaves. Sunlight glints off their wings to illuminate the leaves in dazzling rainbow colors. We enter a dark tunnel of leaves, with only several spots of sun and light appearing here and there, as we fly though a forest of thick, tall timber. We pop out the other side and into a brilliant blue sky with cottony strands of clouds.

Up ahead, on the hazy horizon, I think I see little dots forming in the gray, distance. Little dots glide on the wind like great colorful sailing ships in the air. They are far off butterflies, an entire legion of them, a dense flock. “Grab hold!” I call, “Let the butterfly carry you away!”

The butterflies spin us around and we head for the horizon, over a rolling green landscape, thousands of tall, spindly trees come into view over a grassy ridge, beyond a rolling field of long, waving, green grass.

“Where are we going?!!” one of the others shouts over to me.

“Who cares?!“ I shrug. Then, after thinking about this for a moment, I call back over, “Maybe the butterflies know!” As we dive and rush through the wind.

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Tony Rauch has three books of short stories published – “I’m right here” (spout press), “Laredo” (Eraserhead Press), “Eyeballs growing all over me . . . again” (Eraserhead Press). He has additional titles forthcoming in the next few months.


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