Hope In The Dark: The Joy of Chasing Butterflies #SJBookClub


It feels wrong to be happy.

As Rebecca Solnit writes in Hope in the Dark, a thought-provoking book she wrote in 2003-04 to counter the despair so many of us felt during the tumultuous years of the Bush Administration:

[A] part of the Puritan legacy [of the left] is the belief that no one should have joy or abundance until everyone does, a belief that’s austere at one end, in the deprivation it endorses, and fantastical in the other, since it awaits a universal utopia.

But, as she explains, “Joy sneaks in anyway, abundance cascades forth uninvited,” and it sustains us.

Solnit gives us the example of Roger Casement, a human rights activist and Irish nationalist, who took breaks from his investigation of human rights abuses in South America a century ago “to admire handsome local men and to chase brilliantly colored local butterflies.”

Coincidentally, I’m looking forward to chasing brilliantly colored butterflies in a few months (I plead the Fifth on admiring handsome men from afar in the meantime 😉 ). Greeting butterflies in my garden is a dream I’ve had since the bleak days after the 2016 election, when my daughters asked me what they could do in response to Donald Trump’s unconscionable win.

At first, I didn’t know what two third graders and a kindergartener could do. Whatever “political” activity it was had to be tangible, relatively easy to understand, and meaningful to them. It became clearer when they shared their fears about the environment (a fear I didn’t substantiate by saying anything about Trump’s anti-science pick for the Environmental Protection Agency).

So, we’ve decided to plant a butterfly garden. We joined the Monarch Squad at the World Wildlife Fund, we learned about the declining monarch population, we planted milkweed seeds in November (we’ll do another round of milkweed planting in the spring), and we’ve started to research butterfly-friendly plants.

Most of our work in the garden will happen during my daughters’ spring break in a few months, but for now, it’s fun to plan our project and to dream about beautiful butterflies. This project gives us a sense of joy we sorely need during these dark times.


*I’m reading Hope in the Dark for the Social Justice Book Club (hosted by Kerry @ Entomology of a Bookworm and Janani @ The Shrinkette). I’m 50% finished with it. Solnit wrote the book in 2003-04; however, it has a more recent foreword (2015) and afterward (2014).

**I’m sorry to have found out through Google that Roger Casement met a sad end.

Not a Monarch, but a beautiful butterfly I found in someone else’s garden. Is it an eastern black swallowtail?



  1. A great idea and I hope it will bring you all much joy! We have different and fewer butterflys over here I think, so always curious to see others’ picture!
    Also I need to read Solnit even though I’m not hit as hard as you all under Trump. But our racist angry white men hold 15% and out gov ist conservative.

  2. Your butterfly plan sounds like a wonderful one. My sisters each had a couple of butterfly gardens when we were kids, and they were a treat for all of us. We loved watching them break out of their cocoons and learn to fly and such.

  3. I love this so, so, so, so much. It combines three (three!) acts of resistance in one: education, joy, and, of course, environmental action.

    1. Thank you! It’s the perfect project for us. I love seeing my children engaged on an issue. By the way, Samira read Zahrah The Windseeker and loved it. She’s encouraging me to read it now (I will). Thank you for recommending it!

  4. Isn’t it a good book? Love the butterfly garden. Can I recommend a plant? In my garden I have an anise hyssop (the purple perennial kind that gets about 4 feet tall) and it is covered with butterflies of several varieties (and fat bumble bees too) from the time it starts blooming in early July until the frost kills it. At one point last summer I had close to a dozen monarchs, a swallowtail and a red admiral on it all at the same time.

    1. It’s a great book! Thank you for the recommendation for our garden. This is the first time we’re gardening with the explicit purpose of attracting and aiding wildlife. We’d never had milkweed in the garden before, and we’re going to greatly expand our flower beds to hold the butterfly-friendly varieties. Anise hyssop sounds perfect for this project. I love the smell of anise, and purple is my favorite color. I also love that another name for this plant–based on a quick Google search–is “hummingbird mint.” We would love to attract more hummingbirds! 🙂

      1. Oh, and the purple hyssop is not a draw for hummingbirds, the flowers are not the right kind. If you want to attract hummingbirds, you’ll want to get the variety with the single tubular flowers instead of the upright “fuzzy” flowers.

  5. That sounds amazing! I think that nature and especially butterflies can cheer everyone up, it’s such a sign of hope and renewal 🙂

  6. There have been a number of terrorist attacks over the last few years that have hit very close to home. As silly as it may sound, nature and wildlife has always managed to cheer me up. So I think a butterfly garden is a wonderful and very tangible way to “do something.” Good luck with it! And the best thing: If maybe, hopefully, the next years won’t be as terrible as some people fear, then you will still have something beautiful to enjoy every day.

    1. “And the best thing: If maybe, hopefully, the next years won’t be as terrible as some people fear, then you will still have something beautiful to enjoy every day.”

      That’s a wonderful way of thinking about it. I hope the next four years won’t be as terrible as I fear, and I also hope it’s because more people will engage in the political process to ensure that our politicians do what’s best for their constituents and for the future. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. I recently watched a chrysalis form in my lanai. The monarch caterpillar was brought inside for safety, and once the butterfly emerged and dried its wings, I took it outside, hanging on a stick. It flew away a couple hours later. There’s a bunch of stuff online about how to help monarchs. I can’t think of a better project for kids or adults!

    1. We’re really excited about the project. I plan on raising/releasing monarchs with them too, but first, we’re working on the garden. We love to garden, but we’d never before focused on making sure our garden was ideal for butterflies (there wasn’t any milkweed, for example).

      Thanks for stopping by. I hope your move is going well!

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