Earth Day: Please Brake for Woolly Bears

woolly bear

Earth Day

In honor of the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, I’m sharing one of my father’s poems from his ABC of Radical Ecology. Scott Bates, a remarkably tenderhearted man, was the ultimate “I brake for animals” environmentalist. Once, to his delight, he came across a road sign in the Smokey Mountains cautioning motorists to watch out for woolly bear caterpillars crossing the road.

That sign may have been the inspiration for “B Brakes for Butterflies.” In the spirit of Earth Day, it reminds us to pay attention to even nature’s smallest denizens. Or as Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner puts it,

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

One note on the following poem: I couldn’t arrange it typographically but the “B” in the third stanza should be lying on its back. The poem could be titled “Bates Brakes for Butterflies.”

B Brakes for Butterflies

By Scott Bates

And diamonded with panes of quaint device
Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes
As are the Tiger Moths’ deep-damasked wings
                                                    John Keats

B brakes for butterflies because
butterflies are too beautiful to know not
to trust people

Somebody has to look out for them

Once when B was lying bare-bottomed in the sun
a butterfly landed on one of his back bumpers

Butterflies haven’t developed a healthy terror of
Civilization with its bounteous blessings
unlike other beasts
whose motto is
“If it looks (smells or sounds) like a human being
beat it”

They like to play tag in the middle of dusty mountain roads

B even serves for wooly bears bumbling along
like fur-bearing freight trains indomitably
across the burning pavement in their bare feet
although B knows they cause plant damage
he thinks they have enough enemies already
and some may grow up to be
deep-damasked Tiger Moths

Monarch butterflies flutter by in September from
                                             kingdoms in the north
on their own imperial wave-lengths
They dance after the sun like runaway stained-glass windows
They are on pilgrimage to the high forests of the Sierra Madre

B thinks that one way
not to possess beauty
is to smash it up on the highway

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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