The Swallowtails in New York

New York City’s 305 square miles have 8.4 million people and an unknown number of butterflies.

The people spend most of their time with two feet planted squarely on one of those square miles. The butterflies spend most of their time flying above it.

Except this one butterfly, an eastern tiger swallowtail. (They’re the yellow and black ones.) It was land-bound, somehow pinched between two slabs of sidewalk.

The swallowtail was the size of a dollar bill folded in half. It took up about three square inches in a city that took up about 12 billion square inches. But in those three square inches, it was desperately, miserably trying to flap its way out of the pinch in the sidewalk. It’s life, the swallowtail knew, was meant for the air.

One of those 8.4 million people was on the same sidewalk as the swallowtail. In fact, she thumped right past with a bag bang-banging against her hip.

But she stopped and rotated around. Slow and soft, she eased to the swallowtail and knelt down by all three square inches of it. With two hands gentle enough to hold a shaft of light, she cupped the butterfly up and freed it into the leaves of a nearby plant.

And the swallowtail that was land-bound was now air-bound, flying up over New York’s 12 billion square inches and 8.4 million people.

Of whom it only took one to put life back into the air again.

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