On Monday afternoon, November 11, not long after we began my big birthday backpack into the High Chisos Mountains Complex, we were switchbacking up Laguna Meadow Trail, still within sight of the lodge buildings, when Sean, who had been in front but was now behind since I’d requested a slower pace, said:
“There’s an insect on your backpack.”
“What kind of insect?” I asked.
“A butterfly,” he replied.
“Take a photo.”
We stopped. He snapped a few photos of the yellow-green butterfly. And we continued on, assuming like most times that a curious dragonfly or a shy moth landed on us during a hike, that it would soon fly away. Some forty-five minutes later, he mentioned that the insect was still there.
Up and up and up we hiked along Laguna Meadow Trail, growing wearier and warmer. Each time I asked, “Is it still there?” the reply came back, “Yes.” Even when we stopped to rest, munching on trail mix while sitting on the rock walls that the trail dogs had built to create the switchbacks, the butterfly was still there. Even when I’d stop at practically every switchback, bending over to ease the weight of my pack and to stretch my hamstrings and to catch my breath as we reached the high ridge of the Colima Trail near our campsite, the butterfly was still there.
And when we finally reached the site, and I carefully slid my pack from my shoulders, the butterfly was still there. In addition to riding up the mountains, it had been tasting the salt in my sweat on my pack.
It wasn’t the only hitchhiker. An inchworm had been enjoying the view from the brim of my hat.
And a little brochymena had been napping on my hat’s interior. Both of these I shook out to make their fortunes here in camp, but the butterfly I let be.
Night fell, it grew chill, and we ate our supper. Before turning in, I covered my pack with its rain cover. Since the butterfly hadn’t flown away, although it had moved to a slightly more sheltered position, I placed the cover loosely over the pack to protect both it and the butterfly, but left the cover still open enough that the butterfly could leave if it wished.
Next morning, my birthday, the butterfly was still there. Throughout the pre-dawn rain and the arrival of the mist and clouds, the butterfly was still there. We greeted the deer, breakfasted, attempted and aborted our day hike, broke camp, shouldered our gear. Throughout it all, the butterfly was still there.
As we hiked back down out of the High Chisos, I left the rain cover off my pack so that the butterfly could easily fly away if it wanted to. It didn’t. Down past the ephemeral spring, down past Emory Peak, down past the Bigtooth Maple grove, down past wildflowers, down past steep switchbacks, down past Juniper Flat, the butterfly was still there.
Occasionally I’d ask Sean to check on the butterfly, and each time it was still there.
As we finally descended into the Chisos Basin proper, into the lower level of the clouds, the wind picked up, and the temperature grew chillier. The moisture in the clouds was more tangibly turning to rain. Sean kept an eye on the butterfly, reporting that with some of the strong gusts, it was being whipped around pretty violently, but still it clung to my pack.
On Tuesday afternoon, November 12, not long before we concluded my big birthday backpack into the High Chisos Mountains Complex, we were switchbacking down Pinnacles Trail, now within sight of the lodge buildings, when Sean, who had been in front but was now behind since I was feeling surer on my feet, cried:
The butterfly had flown away into the same wildflower-laden slope of the Chisos Basin we’d been passing through when it landed on my backpack to taste some salt the day before. It had joined us for a birthday adventure and returned home.