Grey Butterfly Gardens

Written By: Alexander Motz

Sound asleep. It happened during the summer in 2013.
“Br-brrrrrrrr,” was the first thing I heard when I awoke.
Slowly I rose from under my sheets, getting to my senses. I peered over at my brother’s bed, which turned out to be empty.
“Whirrrr,” electric saws sounded from outside.
This was not a usual occurrence on Gansett Lane. I drew back the shades of my window. Out of the right corner of my eye, I saw it, or rather I didn’t see it. The many trees next to our house were being cut down. The tall grass was being cut away. However, these were not just any ordinary trees and tall grass, they were memories. The plot of land next to our house, ‘Butterfly Gardens’ as my family called it, was a plot of empty land next to our house. Before we owned our home here, my parents had rented a few different houses along the East End, but none was so idyllic in its natural, country-like setting, a stark contrast to the bustling city of the school year, as was our home in Amagansett. During my summers and most weekends here, the Hamptons became a part of me. I learned to bike, fish, and take in nature in a way that would make even Wordsworth proud. One of the reasons we still love our home here is because it has always been more of our connection to nature. And while ‘Butterfly Gardens’ was never ours, it felt like home.
I rushed downstairs to find my mother speaking in troubled tones on the phone to my father.
“What’s going on,” I said referring to the noise.
“They’re cutting down ‘Butterfly Gardens’,” said my mother.
No one suspected it. No one told us. It never crossed my mind that ‘Butterfly Gardens’ would be cut down. Although the lady owning the land had died, her niece had not wanted to sell the land. But here we stood now, eventually to find out that there was a nephew as well, and he had decided to sell his share—the plot bordering our house. And my brother, Max, had actually been awake for quite some time, even before the early morning commotion. A boy who could sleep through almost anything, Max said he’d had trouble sleeping and stumbled downstairs to the couch in our den. My mother claims it was not a coincidence, and that it was a sign, as if he got the early wake-up call, the one the rest of us felt hit just after 7:00am.
I have many memories of ‘Butterfly Gardens’. During the spring and summer, beautiful white and yellow butterflies could be seen flying about. Occasionally, my siblings and I would catch them in nets and observe them up close. I remember capturing around six one time, and letting them feed on oranges in a large green cage. Constantly, deer would run in out and out of the fields as we pulled up to our house. However, we never ventured into ‘Butterfly Gardens’ until the leaves started falling beginning in Autumn. Although leading to nowhere, there was a small path that could be entered from our yard. One of the most memorable activities I have with ‘Butterfly Gardens’ was climbing trees with my sister. There was this one big tree near the entrance that was perfect for climbing. My older sister, Joy, enjoyed climbing the trees a lot, and would always climb really high. I was not as good of a climber as she, but she would always encourage me to climb the same heights.
Then as the trees would become bare and winter began, we would always hope for snow. One winter, I went trekking out in snow boots with my brother. Max and I found tracks leading in two different directions. I followed one set, he followed the other. After crunching through the snow, I found myself all the way behind our backyard. After the holiday season was over, we would place our Christmas trees out there. And while it was different to see the trees change from green, to brown, to finally bare, it felt like they were still with us. Checking out the trees only a few months before, my brother, sister, and I decided to create a time capsule. In it, we put a picture of ourselves, a penny, and our names. We placed the box behind one of the fallen trees there, surrounded by bramble. I guess I will never know the fate of the time capsule for sure, but I did wonder what the person who took down all those trees might be thinking when he came across it?
Going onto the deck by my parents’ room, we all watched from the view on the porch. What originally had been a green, beautiful vista was now reduced to tree stumps and dirt. Branches strewn everywhere in a disorganized mess. A deer trotted through an area that had once been a beautiful detour, but now, had been reduced to scraps. It was as if someone had taken a photo album and lit it on fire. The land was not ours, but the memories were. No one else called it ‘Butterfly Gardens’, or thought of it as anything more than an uninhabited plot of land. It was special to my family alone, and there we stood, alone, powerless to do anything in opposition.
For the next few months, there was construction and commotion. Where once, we had heard the sounds of life, we now heard the sounds of construction and music playing on a portable radio. We hated it. Nothing remained of it. It was gone. If you’d never seen it before, you might never have believed it was there. The shell of a house that would eventually get built, stood there like a skeleton, feeling lifeless and empty. Deer didn’t trod by as often as they use to. The other plot of land was eventually sold. My mother and father decided to grow trees in our yard to increase the feeling of being surrounded by nature, blocking a view of our neighbors.
Overtime, the construction subsided, and those skeleton shells became fully built houses, and thankfully, our neighbors are nice people. But I do associate a loss of innocence with the fate of ‘Butterfly Gardens’, because it demonstrates that some people care more about money than pastoral beauty. ‘Butterfly Gardens’ originally stood with no other purpose than for pleasure, taken by real-estate companies looking for a quick buck. But despite that, life goes on. And I’m happy that I can still count my wealth in terms of the memories that I know I’ll always have, and many more I’ll make in the future from priceless walks on the beach, hikes, and other wonderful connections with all the beauty nature has to offer.