By Nancy Amos
I don’t think I ever really sat still—in the last 67 years. There were so many adventures if I would just get up and do them. And I so loved my job, my work—as I called it—that I would put in the long days and carry work at home for nighttime. I believed myself to be the ultimate multi-tasker in those days. Never do one thing when you could do two or three simultaneously. I didn’t really have hobbies, my life was mostly work. Then three and a half years ago, things stopped. I was forced to retire before I was ready.
It took a while, but somehow retirement changed my life, motivations and joys. I began to notice things I had never noticed before. I began to really SEE things around me. And I slept until I woke up, without the assistance of an alarm. I used social media, but it wasn’t the first thing I turned on each morning. I realized that work would go on without me. And I began to do more things with my husband of 50 years, even though we liked different things. I began to note the things that brought him joy, like nature, birds, gardening, volunteering at the butterfly garden and leading children and families on nature walks. We took four special trips together after always being too busy to take vacations. Germany, where we had lived as newlyweds, Maine, Nova Scotia and Vancouver are the trips we took in my first three years of retirement.
Over the course of the last two years I began to observe nature—in my own backyard. My husband had lovingly created back and front yards of native Texas plants that were Texas summer tolerant. And those plants attracted birds and butterflies and bees. And we planted specific plants that we knew would be hosts for butterflies. Four scrawny Milkweed plants were potted and nurtured with visions of Monarch butterflies. We didn’t expect much.
Summer 2018 we began to notice caterpillars on the Milkweed. Three pairs of antennae, so we learned that they were Queen butterfly caterpillars, not Monarchs. Other than that, they looked much the same; most people confuse the two. And they ate every leaf on the plants. The plants fed more than 30 beautiful caterpillars, and we were entranced by their pale green chrysalises. To watch the caterpillar form the chrysalis is to watch a miracle. How in the world did that fat worm “spin” a hard protective shell-like case and connect it to a leaf with a silken thread? We waited for what would come next.
Then they began to open—twitching and melting right before our eyes. The chrysalises were hanging under lawn chairs and behind hanging garden pieces so we had to crane our necks and crawl on our knees to find them. One had attached on the underside of the birdbath. Six attached to the edge of the clay pot holding the Milkweed. They opened on their own schedule after swinging in the wind as the last stage of their transformation began. The process was mind-blowingly slow. They slowly wiggled their way out of the “melted” chrysalis, and they dripped and wriggled to dry out their wings. Then they hung motionless a while longer. Slowly, they moved, and then they “walked” up the brick walls or the window screens to get dry and to test their wings a bit. It was a bit like watching a toddler take its first steps. Joy! I was thrilled to photograph and video this process.
And then when I looked away and turned off the camera, they flew. They circled the yard. They landed on a plant. They soared. They left the backyard, and then they circled back as if to say thanks. But only briefly. My daughter calls it my butterfly summer as we had a front row seat for 30 Queen butterflies to fly away. I am glad I learned to sit still and watch.
Nancy K. Amos
I have been married to my high school sweetheart for 51 years. I have a daughter who has a daughter, and a son who has four children. I have an undergraduate degree from Texas Wesleyan University and a masters from the University of Texas at Arlington. Eleven years ago I had a bad car accident and nearly died. I began to take on new adventures: at the urging of my then boss, I did 60 new things in my 60th year on the planet. For example, I visited every museum in Fort Worth and picked at least one item that I loved. I found a new perfume. I did 60 new things, and I made a little book of appreciation.
A few years later a 38-year-old young mother of three who worked for me got sick one night and died three days later. Her death forever changed my life. Live as if each day is your last. That motto comes to mind again today in the day of Corona.
Not just self-described, but also described by friends, family and coworkers as a workaholic, I loved my work. I took it home and worked on my Iphone or computer until late in the evening. Then I was forced into retirement almost four years ago—three years short of my plan to retire at 70.
But with time I have learned to appreciate life and nature. This essay grew out of my late in life discovery of nature.