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Nature's Balm

A friend called to tell me that a woman in a nearby neighborhood was tagging and releasing Monarch Butterflies in her garden that afternoon. Maybe I would like to go photograph?

Of course I would. In fact, I’d been hoping to photograph Monarchs, as photographers whose posts I follow apparently had some of these nearly-extinct butterflies in their yards. I’ve never photographed a Monarch before. As far as I could tell, it was the Frittilary Butterfly that enjoyed the Lantana in our yard – still beautiful to photograph, I just hadn’t gotten to see a Monarch. So, to see Monarchs, and learn something about them, was an enticing opportunity. The fact that there was someone involved in conservation a mere long walk from our home was also intriguing. I continue to be amazed at the people I’m now meeting as I photograph, all working to preserve their own corner of this earth with a scope toward its impact on the whole. And I get to photograph it, as I walk along.

But I actually wasn't so sure this time. It been an emotionally hard day. Earlier that morning, I’d taken our sweet Golden Retriever to the vet. Her age, arthritis and ailing liver had just taken a back seat to a new diagnosis of cancer, and the rapid rate at which it was growing meant these may be our final couple of days with her. We knew she was old, knew she was ailing…we knew our days were probably numbered with each labored breath. Nonetheless, the reality of that harsh diagnosis and short time span sent me into a swirl of emotions. Our sweet Maddi – that four-legged blessing who was the listening companion to a once-12-year-old girl and wagged a party with her greeting – wasn’t going to be with us much longer. Harsh realities are precisely that, no matter how much you’ve known they were coming.

So, photograph butterflies? Seriously? It almost felt disrespectful to our sweet dog. Besides, I didn’t want to leave her side.

But, in all honesty, the swell of emotions I’d had over the hard news, and my subsequent response to just sit and cry beside Maddi kind of made our sweet dog uneasy. She can sometimes be a loner, and I was getting in her space.

So, I went. The angst within me was quite a swirl at this point, the familiar unease of loss spinning my heart. Guilt now walked in – how could I leave our dog and go photograph butterflies? But, rationale kicked in, too. I would only be gone 45 minutes, Maddi had had enough of me trying to hug her for the moment, and I also knew that time behind the lens can be emotionally settling for me. It was, after all, why I picked up the camera four years ago in the first place.

Though I heard interesting information about the migration and life span of the Monarch, my hurting heart wasn’t able to take in the words. But, my eyes took in the brilliant yellow of the Swamp Sunflowers towering around 8 feet tall, with the incredible orange and black patterns of the brilliant Monarchs gilding the petals. With each click of my camera, I got further into the quiet and deeper into the being.

I was reminded once again. Having those few minutes, seeing something besides the hard at which I’d been looking…seeing the intricate design and interconnectedness of nature, brought a balm to my heart. Looking closely, seeing something beautiful, seeing details in God’s creation I’d never seen before, all bring a calm, so I can go back and face what I have to face. It’s not a way to avoid. It’s a way to focus and reengage. Psalms come to life and take wings..their beauty, their harshness, their realness, their hope.

Our sweet Maddi was glad to see me when I returned, her tail wagging and her mouth smiling as I brushed her golden coat. I’ve stuck pretty close to her since then, sitting down innumerable times to pat her and talk to her in the week that has followed, bonus days in a rough prognosis. She had some reprieve from her heavy breathing – apparently the steroid shot she was given helped for a while. She has been a happy dog, and enjoyed the steak bones and extra treats that have come her way in the week.

Now, as I write, Maddi’s breathing has grown heavier. My heart has, too. Oh this dog, this sweet, merciful dog.

It looks like it won’t be long before I have to take a really long walk with my camera…seeing deeply and feeling fully, a balm to the tears in my soul.

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