The Illustrated Insectopedia - Hugh Raffles (2010)

Beauty

“What’s going on? What is it?” I called out to Seu Benedito as we put-putted along the Rio Guariba in the afternoon sunshine. “What’s happening?”

A hundred yards away on the far bank, under the heavy trees, which just yesterday had sheltered a broken wooden house, the poorest on the river, was a shimmering jewel, a glittering vision of fluttering yellow, canary yellow, corn silk yellow, golden yellow. Flecks of gold were spinning from it like cinders high into the dark forest. Sparkling sunbursts were spiraling out from it over the river. “What is it?”

“Oh,” Seu Benedito laughed, “the borboletas de verão, the butterflies of summer. They’re back. You’ve never seen them?”

That day they were everywhere. An explosion exploding the world, dressing it in strange new color, tripping it out with unexpected beauty. As we chugged along the river, we saw that each house we passed had surrendered to the transformation. Thousands of yellow butterflies had settled on roofs and walls, occupied wooden porches, finally turned Amazonia into El Dorado, encrusted this quiet village in layers of gold.

When we reached home, there were golden-yellow summer butterflies dancing around our house too. High in the eaves, all around the porch, low in the muddy yard where the pigs rooted under the floorboards. They floated and soared, and I took a picture to hold on to that day and the few that followed before the insects left.

This is the kitchen at the back of Seu Benedito’s house, near the mouth of the Amazon in the Brazilian state of Amapá. I lived here for fifteen months in 1995 and 1996, and this is what it looked like in the late-afternoon sun on the day the butterflies arrived. Sometimes now it seems like a dream, someone else’s story, so I take out this picture and think back to that day. See the sleepy hunting dog in the foreground? See the açaí palms, with their heavy bunches of black fruit? See the two giant tires that little Helton and Rosiane filled every morning with water from the creek, just out of view to the right? See the fenced-off vegetable patch? The thick wire clothesline? See the borboletas de verão caught in time and space like mini UFOs, just visiting, just stopping by, entering our lives, transforming everything just for a moment, showing us a glimmer of a different world, then passing on?