“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
This summer, my family was able to travel for several weeks, hitting 10 states in 10 weeks in our small pop-up camper. Living wild and enjoying the great outdoors was opening, in so many ways. Opening in a practical sense, with standards of living being altered. Opening in a visual sense, with the vastness of nature, all around. And opening in an emotional and intellectual sense, with the variety of earth and culture to experience. I came home and was struck by the presence of walls. Everywhere.
Walls surround me every day. My home, my work, the structures within which I choose to do business. I’ve spent a good amount of my life living within walls. The walls of my home offer me a place to rest, a place to eat, a place to create, a place for protection and privacy. I not only spend so much of my life within walls, but I also spend a lot of my time and thoughts consumed with them. What color to paint them. What artwork to hang on them. How to make money to pay for them and one day afford more of them. I design and plan and scheme and dream about them. Walls are a huge part of our culture. Of the history of humanity. Architects spend their lives designing and building them. Archeologists, studying their remains. The Great Wall of China can be seen from space. And hell, all of America is divided over the wall the one-who-shall-remain-nameless wants to build at our southern border.
But why all the fuss over walls? It all seems so silly, spending so much time and energy on a simple vertical structure. Why are these enclosures, these divisions, that I have chosen to surround myself with, day in and day out, so important? And why do I find myself with a constant urge to escape them? To be out in the open expanse of nature, breathing wild air and soaking in the elements of earth?
Our physical bodies are enclosed within our largest and fastest-growing organ: our skin. Our skin is a wall of sorts, acting as our interface with the world. It offers structural support, but it’s permeable membrane also acts perceptively, communicating with other systems in our bodies of the world around us. Our skin communicates to our muscles and brains through nerve cells and houses over 11 miles of blood vessels. Skin sheds 30,000 to 40,000 cells per minute, and renews itself completely every 28 days. This wall defining the boundaries of our physical bodies is quite active and alive.
Relationally, we set walls between ourselves and others.These invisible walls can be seen everywhere in our culture. We define ourselves, our beliefs, the things we are willing to do or not do. We build these internal structures to offer support or distance, to act as guides as we make decisions and act within society, as a means of comfort or protection. Sometimes the limits of our walls enable growth and healing, but sometimes, their borders can imprison us. Setting internal boundaries, defining our limits or claiming labels can be a natural, healthy means of identity development, but have our walls, our labels, become so normal, so important, that we can no longer distinguish between our selves, and the walls that surround us?
Walls enable us to define who we are. But what happens, if we find ourselves trapped within a defining wall that we no longer fit inside? Impermeable walls, rock solid walls, walls that aren’t elastic, walls that don’t renew, hinder growth.
A few weeks ago, we found a butterfly in the kids’ swimming pool, too late to save its life. We carefully pulled it out and brought it inside. The kids have studied it again and again, with their magnifying glasses in hand, noting new details to love each time. I’ve become slightly obsessed learning about butterflies: The beauty of their wings, the defining boundary of their being, with the variety of colors and detailed patterns among species is mind blowing. There is so much to learn and so much magic to celebrate.
Schopenhauer said “[Science] is like the innumerable showering drops of the waterfall, which, constantly changing, never rest for an instant; [Art] is like the rainbow, quietly resting on this raging torrent.” It’s here, in the beautiful evolution of a butterfly, I find myself, an artist, stopped in my tracks. The craziest, most unbelievable fact about butterflies, is that they once crawled on the earth, as caterpillars. A fact I have heard and seen and known since childhood, but here, in all these thoughts on walls and growth and openness to change, I stand amazed. These creatures, once confined by the limits of gravity, break through their self-created walls, and emerge in flight.
And here I am, relishing in this magic. Unnerved by the energy found in the life of an insect. In the bravery to stare into the mysteries of the unknown, in the beauty of learning and renewing the boundaries of who I am. This is flight’s pattern: breaking out, emerging in flight, finding more walls surrounding me, and the bravery to begin this process over and over again.
The collection Flight Pattern, inspired by the thoughts written above, can be viewed here