My husband and I began our lockdown on March 9. We have stayed mostly at home since, with only a few brief trips out into open-air places and virtually no in person contact with anyone. As with most people, this isolation has been tough, especially for an extroverted and always adventuring person like me. While I am constantly aware of my fortunes throughout the pandemic and am grateful for them, the everyday stresses are still very real. By mid-summer, the absence of nature time was taking its toll on me, as that has always been where I find my peace. I was tired of my backyard, which was colorless and mostly lifeless. We had just one tree in the yard.  No plants, no shrubs, nothing colorful or even interesting. Having a history of killing any plant I ever tried to grow, I often joked that I didn’t  know how I managed to keep my husband and our cats alive so I shied away from trying to grow anything for many years.

Then 2020 comes along. I am weary from the constant barrage of anxiety and stress and fear that this pandemic has introduced as a new normal. I am bored. I am longing to connect back to nature. I am craving a change to the sameness of each tick of the clock. I make a post on Instagram about wanting to plant something, though I knew I had no intention of following through. After a few friends thoughtfully encourage me, I think that I might as well try! So I order 4  plants and anxiously await their arrival. When I finally get them, I set them up and think, okay, this is it! This is my fresh start. I am committing to these plants. I go out and talk to them each day. I tell them I am a good person and I promise to be better to them than I was to those who came before them. Then I wait. 

I got my first bloom of a hibiscus plant a little more than a week later and I chronicled it like the birth of a child, capturing each stage of the flower opening and closing. I am instantly captivated! Inspired by this first success, I order more plants. Then I bloom more flowers and order new plants. In short time, I have more than a dozen flowering plants, all thriving under my care. I am elated! I am going into the backyard, where I rarely spent any time previously, on an almost hourly basis now. I did it! In desperate need of one, and even though I thought I never could, I have grown my new happy place!

Now, I think, the only thing missing is some wildlife. I order a bird feeder that quickly becomes a very successful squirrel feeder. So then I do the natural thing and buy 3 more, placing them in all parts of the yard. Now I have squirrels and birds and the occasional iguana visiting. I am in nature heaven! One day, as I am enjoying all this naturey goodness, I realize that though I see a few butterflies zoom through the yard, they never seem to stop. I innocently Google “plants that attract butterflies.” 

I find a local nursery taking every COVID safety precaution and I decide to visit to buy a few milkweed plants, the host plant for monarch caterpillars. A few days later, I notice a caterpillar munching on one of the leaves. I am over the moon with excitement! I sit down and watch him for some time, welcoming him to the garden. Sadly, I checked the plant later in the day and the caterpillar was gone. I Google “monarch caterpillar predators“ and learn about all the things that prey on caterpillars. I can’t let them die! Within 2 weeks of that first caterpillar, I have 3 butterfly habitat cages, each stocked with its own milkweed. Now, truly like an expectant mother, I excitedly watched as my new caterpillar babies grew and began to pupate. Then, one sunny and clear blue sky morning, my first butterfly emerges (or ecloses as I later learn is the proper term.)  I am awestruck!  As I open the cage to let her go, she flies out and for just a second, lands on my cheek, giving me butterfly kisses before she takes off. I am stunned – completely overwhelmed at how beautiful the experience was. I weep the happiest tears. In that moment, I am so grateful for the gift of this new hobby. I am so grateful for the honor of sending this sweet butterfly into the world. And I become grateful to the lockdown for giving me this new soul-enriching hobby that I likely never would have started without its presence.

In the 5 months since that day, I have raised and released somewhere near 300 butterflies of 4 different types. My garden has grown to more than 60 plants. I have read dozens of articles on butterflies and joined butterfly groups on social media. I have nursed sick ones to health and have compassionately cared for others, too sick to take off, until their disease took them. I have rescued dozens of caterpillars and pupae, after something chewed into my cages and began eating them. I have saved others from tropical storms and cold weather. I have seen butterfly babies being made and I have stood in wonder watching those mamas carefully and quickly laying their eggs on the same plants they were raised on. I have watched eggs hatch into caterpillars, caterpillars turn into pupae and those pupae turn into gorgeous butterflies. It has been the most awesome and beautiful experience. It’s been so rewarding to succeed at something I never thought possible and in that success, I am literally growing my own happiness! And I get to share it all with my loving husband. I found out after I got those first sweet butterfly kisses that, unbeknownst to me, he had seen it all happen through the window, sharing in that special moment with me. Although he doesn’t garden, he watches those butterflies every day, even when I am not around. He shares in my joy of each new healthy release and he will even, from time to time, sing their welcome song with me when a new one ecloses. It’s been so happiness-inspiring for both of us, which is incredible in a time when joy has become harder to find.

These butterflies and the garden in general have been my refuge of happiness and peace every day since that first bloom. I find solace in my toughest moments just by stepping out there and appreciating the simple beauty of the flowers. But it’s my butterflies that truly light up my soul. I watch the caterpillars do their thing with amazement and I marvel at each new butterfly. I celebrate each incredible transformation, pausing to acknowledge how much I relate to their metamorphosis. And I remain so very grateful for each joyous moment and for the beautiful ways that they have changed me. The quarantine has taught me so much about myself and has reinforced that I have it in me every day to choose happiness. The year was challenging and not at all what I planned and hoped for, yet I was able to make it all that I needed.


  • Donna Skillman

    Tableau Enthusiast, Writer and Happiness Champion

    Donna Skillman is a happiness champion, photography junkie, nature explorer, lover of life and seeker of experiences. She is the Lead Reporting Developer for a women’s health company and a proud Board Member for Little Smiles of Florida, a charity that delivers happiness to kids who need it the most. She is also a volunteer happiness ignitor for Ignite Happy, the book and happiness program authored and founded by her friend and mentor, Darrin Tulley.