Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Nature, with a Side of Butterflies, Hold the Machismo

Every year, the Tucson Botanical Gardens holds a "special event" called Butterfly Magic.  Butterfly pupae are shipped in from around the world and raised at the Gardens so people can experience their beauty.  This post is not about the event because I have not gone yet, but for more information click this link.

Last night, I was discussing going to this event with a friend, and during our conversation we began to reflect on the fact that quite a few men might object to attending such an event due to a misconception of what does or does not constitute "being manly."  In this post I hope to at least make my views clear, and add some thoughts that might help to set the record straight.  Naturally, many people have many different views on what it is to be manly, masculine, etc.  This post is not about lifting weights, eating steak, drinking as many beers as possible in the shortest amount of time, or anything else like that.  It is about having a healthy sense of awe and appreciation for the beauty and mystery of nature, and that doing so is truly a "manly" quality.  (Ladies, you can probably even go ahead and skip this post if you want to.  You are already much wiser than us, and know the importance of appreciating nature.)

To start, I would like to make an argument that I think anyone can agree with.  Masculine men should have a certain ruggedness to them.  Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, all men can agree that these guys are masculine.  They have an air about them that says "put me anywhere, anytime, and I can be fine and enjoy myself while I'm at it."  Well, any nature enthusiast will instantly know that I also want to put a couple of other guys into this category.  Edward Abbey and Henry David Thoreau.

Edward Abbey is probably most famous for "The Monkey Wrench Gang," but he also wrote a book called "Desert Solitaire" which is about time he spent alone in the Utah Desert, as well as stories from his past.  In this book, he shares adventures such as helping to wrangle stray cattle, hiking some of Utah's more dangerous canyons, canoeing (or was it kayaking) to the Rainbow Bridge, and various other tales of intrigue.  And of course, he used to blow up dams and destroy construction equipment with his bare hands.  To describe him in a single phrase, he's basically the Chuck Norris of outdoorsmen.  And to share a quote with you...

All we have, it seems to me, is the beauty of art and nature and life, and the love which that beauty inspires. –The Journey Home (57)

Edward Abbey, most certainly, would have delighted had a butterfly graced him with its presence.  And he was, unquestionably, one of the most manly nature enthusiasts of all time.  If you don't believe me, you go spend years alone as a park ranger in the harsh Utah high desert and then tell me he's not.  For a final piece of evidence, here is a photograph of Ed Abbey.

As rugged as they come.  With an awesome, manly beard.

Henry David Thoreau was perhaps the preeminent nature lover in America.  He wrote countless pages on the beauty of nature, and the importance of appreciating it.  He, like Ed Abbey, live alone in the wilderness for a long time, and took care of himself in a most manly fashion.  He also said...

Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.

Now obviously he wasn't really talking about butterflies in that quote, but it demonstrates the kind of pleasure he found in them.  To use a creature as the literary manifestation of happiness obviously shows a keen pleasure in their existence.  Thoreau was a rugged individualist like Edward Abbey, but he held another quality that I consider to be very "manly."  He stood up unwaveringly for what he believed in.  Anyone who has read "Civil Disobedience" knows that he was as principled and dependable as a man can be, which is surely something all "manly men" can appreciate.  And this man, who should be admired and looked up to by all, was a lover of nature and its beauty, mystery, and intrigue.  And a lover of butterflies.  He also had one of the manliest beards ever grown, as evidenced in these pictures...

 Clearly a man (and a beard) to be looked up to.

Something else these two had in common is a quality I have always admired in the men I look up to, awareness.  A keen observer of the world around him is, in my opinion, more masculine than someone who bumbles through life without a clue.  The military calls it "situational awareness", and I'm sure most people can agree that men in the military are generally masculine.  Permaculture reflects this value in the very first Permaculture Principle "Observe and Interact."  And surely, anyone who truly stops and takes the time to gain an awareness of nature will develop a sense of awe and appreciation for it's mystery and beauty.  Anyone who is still enough to reflect on that beauty might enjoy a butterfly that alights upon their shoulder.  And in my opinion, doing so can only make someone more masculine, not less.  Failure to enjoy the butterflies, or "stop and smell the roses" out of some misguided sense of machismo is only cheating oneself out of an experience that is uniquely and preciously human.

For most of my readers, I'm sure this post was a no-brainer.  Especially my female readers... I'm sorry if I bored you.  But I am friends with several guys who need to know it is ok to enjoy a butterfly, even encouraged.  I know that some people, male or female, just aren't interested or intrigued by butterflies or nature, and that is sad to me, but ok.  But if you are someone (a guy) who would like to stop and appreciate them, but you don't simply because you are afraid of ridicule or a reduced feeling of masculinity, know that the people who might ridicule you probably want to stop and enjoy them as much as you, but are afraid to do so for the same reasons you have.  So go outside, take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy whatever comes your way.  And bring a friend.  You'll be in the company of some of the manliest men who have ever lived.


  1. You remind me of you grandfather sometimes so much so that I feel a need to read this if only to reconnect with things that my grandpa use to explain to me. My grandpa and I had a butterfly collection as well as going bird watching. Red Cardinals where his favorite. And humming birds. The most amazing man, the manliest man I ever knew was my grandfather. So I agree. You are right about the fact that men don't need to ignore the amazing sites of nature in an attempt to be more manly is just stupid.


  2. Muir, Abbey, Thoreau. Manliest men of the highest order. Excellent post... a real pleasure to read. I believe what sets the Men apart from the Boys is that a Man panders to nobody's taste but his own. If you are awed by butterflies, or if the sight of birds invokes a sense of compelling wonder, you must pursue those things against all costs.
    Going against the grain, following your dream to be a permie homesteader; that's what makes you a Man. Right on.

  3. Muir! I was in such a rush to write this because of the discussion I had with my friend that I didn't even think about Muir! Here is a quote of his that I almost certainly would've put in this post:

    Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.

    And here is a picture of him, naturally, with an awesome beard:


    And if anyone can tell me who the manly man next to him is, you win kudos:


    Thanks for the great comments!

  4. You should also note that Clint Eastwood himself is quite an environmentalist! He was the vice chairman of the California State Park and Recreation Commission. He helped block a 6-lane toll road that was going to go through one of the beaches around here a couple years ago. Of course, it was an appointed position and after he did that he was not reappointed...

    Although, I don't know if he likes butterflies. He might be able to kill them with a stare...

  5. Great point! I had actually heard about that, but forgot all about it.