My gift of serendipity worked again. Picked up this book at a second-hand bookshop, an author I've never heard of. Brilliant stories, and spanning so many fields: bacteriology, mountaineering, anatomy, neurology, entomology. I love books that open up new worlds for me.
"As the sun went down this evening, I went for a walk along the dunes again. The sky was a raging pink in front of me. There are no monarchs to be seen yet. When I walk through the sand dunes, I think of Vladimir Nabokov, the most famous amateur lepidopterist of the century. He was obsessed with butterflies. One morning in 1941, he walked down a mule path in the Grand Canyon and found a species of Neonympha butterfly. Up at the top, his wife, Vera, wearing a black dress with a white lace collar, also came across two previously unidentified species. Butterflies have the capacity for infinite variation. They are changing continuously. Nabokov would have agreed with my grandfather. He didn't believe that such beauty and perfection were required by nature for survival.
The average span of an adult monarch butterfly is four weeks. Four weeks to be a momentary burst of color and to reproduce. There is a painful transience to it all. They are nothing but a drop of colour in the ocean. A fleeting moment that dazzles and blinds, and then is gone forever.
It is fitting that I find myself by the ocean. I have wanted to sail for years. Being out of touch with land, carried on currents and winds that we cannot control, must be liberating. How enticing it is to imagine being at the mercy of the elements. There are boats out at sea tonight, flashing mooring lights toward the shore. It is reassuring to see them out there. And in those distant glimmers, across the coal-dark water, I can see my own past, drifting just out of reach."
Page 112, A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies, Stories by John Murray
"The people in John Murray's striking new collection of stories are control freaks: whether they are obsessive collectors of butterflies, dedicated trauma surgeons working in dangerous war zones or carpenters making sure that the joins and angles of a house are solid, these characters all see their vocations as a means of containing the chaos and uncertainty around them. They are believers in rules and devotees of order, people scared of the random dangers of the world and even more frightened of their own turbulent emotions."