Nature’s Lesson

While editing this month’s cover story on farmers markets, I ran across the name of Lorenzo Zayas and was reminded of a lesson I learned from him about how nature operates on its own timetable.

Zayas is The Butterfly Man, the longtime vendor at Winter Park Farmers’ Market who sells “butterfly kits’’ consisting of a clear plastic enclosure, caterpillars, and food—a combination that after a few weeks is likely to produce a beautiful butterfly right before your eyes. But in the summer of 2001, I was convinced that I had purchased a dud.

Our family had bought a kit from Zayas for my 7-year-old son, and for several weeks we watched in awe as the green, black and yellow caterpillar devoured stalk after stalk of parsley. Gradually, the gluttony slowed and the creature entered the pupa stage, forming a green chrysalis. Time stood still inside the enclosure, where the chrysalis hung from a small branch.
Then on September 11, 2001, time stood still for the rest of us, with the terrorist attacks and the subsequent shock, sadness and anger. In those weeks that followed, our household didn’t pay attention to much else, least of all what was happening inside the enclosure. Because nothing was going on—the chrysalis had gone from green to brown to black, and it appeared to have dried up, anything inside obviously dead. We waited impatiently, but more than two months after bringing the caterpillar home from the farmers market, we decided that the end had come.

A spot in our backyard flowerbed was selected as a resting place. My son dug a small hole with a spade. We placed the chrysalis in his cupped hands and prepared to say a few words of tribute.

Then I heard my wife say, “Barry, it’s moving.’’

Indeed, something was coming to life inside. And suddenly, it all became clear. The blackness that I thought had signaled death and decay was actually the wings of a black swallowtail that had simply decided to take its time. When it emerged later that day, the butterfly was the biggest we had ever seen. We called the neighbor kids over for the release. I videotaped the event, and as the swallowtail flew away, I trained the camera on my 7-year-old and said, “What do you think of that?!’’ He paused, looked solemnly into the camera and said, “I love him.’’

We saw what we believe was our butterfly once more, the next day near our backyard grapefruit tree. Then it was gone, destined to live only a couple of weeks, as is its life cycle—a marvel of nature that slept through 9-11 only to come to life when it meant the most.

So I suggest that you stop by and see The Butterfly Man on a Saturday morning in Winter Park. While I can’t guarantee it will result in an event as memorable as my family’s, I do know this: You will leave with a smile on your face.

From butterflies to four-legged companions and feathered friends: Starting June 8, you can go to and vote from among the finalists in our 4th annual Cover Pet Contest. The winner will grace the front of our September issue. So show support for your favorite. The online polls are open until June 22.

Categories: Column