Gentle and Fierce is a new book of illustrated memoir essays by Vanessa Berry. 

The Butterfly Effect / House Ornament

The early drafts of 'The Butterfly Effect' began with a quote by Vladimir Nabokov: "It is astounding how little the ordinary person notices butterflies." But at some point I removed it, because it didn't feel true to the story. I make a point of noticing butterflies, and have done for as long as I've known them to be my namesakes, although I don't see them with the entomological eye of Nabokov. I would never be that kind of butterfly collector. As I child I had read about collecting butterflies in a book of hobbies, and how the required equipment included a device known as a 'killing jar'. It was easy to make a killing jar at home, the book said, but I never did, just thought about it the same way I thought about ghosts and bad luck.

The book of hobbies was full of projects that involved some kind of transformation. An avocado seed could be suspended, via toothpicks, half in water, and it would crack open, grow roots. Vinegar and bicarb could, tantalisingly, create a volcano. But there were other kinds of transformations that were available just by noticing. These were quieter transformations, shifts in ways of my way of seeing. Around the suburbs signs had been left for me, like the giant decorative butterflies that adorned certain houses, which I looked for every time I passed by, wondering if there was a further message they were carrying, or if just noticing them was message enough.

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