The Butterflies and the Bloom

Soon I will celebrate my grandson’s first trip around the sun. After that, I will celebrate my own trip another time around the sun. The number is not germane here. (It’s been a few.)

Yesterday, before sunrise, my husband John and I took a twisty-turny-twisty-turny drive through picturesque Ortega Highway headed over and down into the rolling hills near Lake Elsinore which were reported to be covered in the “Superbloom,” the proliferation of yellow and gold and blue and purple wildflowers resulting from Southern California’s recent, extraordinary rainy season. Along with wildflowers, I hoped it’d be a two-fer; I wanted to also see swarms of Painted Ladies Butterflies, the current butterfly phenomenon resulting from their migration from Mexico. The past few days I have been mesmerized by them on the freeway, on my street where I live, in the Target parking lot—every common place— so I wanted to see them hovering over the Superbloom.

The drive through Ortega was bittersweet. The last time I had driven it, I sped through alone on one of the harder days of my life. I needed a solo drive. When I got to the end and the top, I stood on the bluff at “The Lookout,” overlooking the lake below and bawled my eyes out. The reason for my tears is not germane here.

The next time I was set to take a drive through Ortega was years later. My friend Chris had taken me for my first spin on a Harley after our Toastmaster’s meeting one early Wednesday morning and he said next time? “Ortega Highway.” The plan was to take a leisurely spin through the picturesque Ortega. That day never game, because not long after our first ride, Chris passed away. He had been on his Harley on twisty-turny Santiago Canyon Road when someone in oncoming traffic had fallen asleep and crossed over into Chris’ lane and hit him head-on, taking my friend’s life on this spinning planet.

On our drive yesterday through Ortega, I was thinking about Chris, and I was thinking about my friend Dennis, who I had just heard passed away, the day before. I knew he had been battling cancer. I had written a thank you card to him and had put it in the mail the day before. I told him I was still praying for him. He probably never saw the card. I wrote Dennis thank you cards occasionally for his donations to IMA, the girls’ school I work for in Guatemala City. I sometimes sent him videos of the IMA students saying that they were praying for him.

Dennis was generous.

I knew Dennis from Oakdale High School back in the day, and because of Facebook, we’d gotten connected again. Dennis and I worked on the high school newspaper and yearbook and in the “newsroom”—the radio broadcast that was piped throughout the school. We had some common interests. In high school, I knew Dennis as a truly nice guy—a good guy. A helpful guy. Dennis went on to become a journalist and reporter and head anchor at KTVH news in Bozeman, Montana. And certainly many more wonderful things I didn’t know. But because of Facebook, I could see he’d become a nice man, a good man, a helpful man. When he’d learned about my work in Guatemala, he wanted to help.

During my trips around the sun, I’ve been a sometime-aspiring actress—mostly commercials. When I told him I had an epic fail on a commercial shoot because I had totally choked while attempting to act while reading from a teleprompter, he said I could visit the news station where he worked and he’d help train me (for free, of course), help me read the screen without freaking out.

A few years later, when he noticed on Facebook that I was a new author, he said he wanted to introduce me to a friend of his—Libby—a fellow news anchor. Libby, was also a new author and Dennis suggested maybe we could be of help to one another. Libby has become one of my biggest assets and helpers in my journey as an author, and now a dear friend.

I think Dennis made a couple more trips around the sun than I have so far. I don’t know how many more I’ll have, and how many more times I’ll drive on Ortega Highway, happy or sad, or maybe both at the same time.

Yesterday John and I walked the rolling hills covered in blue and orange and yellow and purple and green. We saw the Painted Lady Butterflies flitting and spinning around on this great big, beautiful planet.

I see the butterflies in the common places. I don’t have to go far. They make the common, beautiful. All I have to do is open my eyes to see the little miracles flying all around and above me.

I knew my friend Chris as a good, kind, helpful man and I knew Dennis as a good, kind, helpful man. I met them in common places like high school and Toastmasters. I can only imagine that beyond-vibrant, glorious place they have migrated to now, the one that bests the stunning beauty of yesterday’s rolling hills with fluttering butterflies.

But I can only imagine.

I don’t know how many more trips I will have around the sun. Soon I celebrate the first trip ever for my grandson, who likes to laugh as he spins himself around on his bum. With his vibrant spirit, already, I have a hunch he will watch for the butterflies and the bloom.

My heartfelt love sent to the family and friends of Dennis Carlson.