There’s a Native American legend that says if you whisper your wishes to a butterfly, then set it free, it will fly to the heavens with your wish. If that’s true, there are thousands of wishes waiting to be fulfilled for Dancetta Feary. She’s a Kaneohe woman who has been raising butterflies for five years.
“I just wanted to have butterflies in my yard. I always thought it was really beautiful,” she told me one afternoon while sitting in her beautiful, breezy butterfly garden. And at a particularly stressful time in her life, she finally decided to go for it.
For six years, Dancetta weathered trauma after trauma, starting with the highly publicized 1999 suicide of her brother Mackey.
Maybe you recognize the name? Mackey Feary, lead singer of the popular island band Kalapana. “He really was the only baby I ever had. He was my baby brother. I never had children of my own,” reflects Dancetta.
After that, marriage of 20 years ended, her family was torn asunder by six years worth of lawsuits, and then her father died. “It was tough, very challenging. I would have used the word depressing then, but I see things through wider eyes now and I see everything is here for a reason, and everything is good,” she philosophizes.
And so those butterflies entered the picture. First a few, then a few more, and before she knew it, she had hundreds. They dominate her carport in large and small cages. On a quiet night, you can even hear the caterpillars munching away steadily, and the butterflies’ wings flapping at the cage ceiling, reaching towards freedom.
Dancetta spends four hours a day caring for her pets. Her day starts at 6 a.m. with feeding the butterflies, the dogs, and maybe, if she’s diligent, herself. She works as a Realtor, so the next daypart is dedicated to selling real estate. When she gets home, it’s more pet care, and then more real estate until midnight.
What compels her to raise these gentle winged creatures? “They teach me that there’s so much beauty in life,” she explains. “From the day they're born, the mother lays them on a leaf and that's it. They've really taught me you can be independent and strong and be by yourself.”
Some of the butterflies she raises are a rare, white variety. She credits UH Manoa professor John Stimson, PhD, with helping her figure out how to breed them. “He said if the orange males were of the same brood as the females, then their offspring would produce some whites (one out of every four), being a recessive gene. Over 700 butterflies later, this next generation was all oranges. So, fingers crossed, I tried again.”
Finally, in 2007, her first batch of whites hatched on August 13– Mackey’s birthday. “This is the tenth anniversary of Mackey's passing, so a special year for me,” adds Dancetta.
She nicknames all whites Mackey’s Monarchs. “It’s a gift from him,” she smiles. Is he telling you something, I ask? “I’m sure he’s here,” replies Dancetta. “The veil between life and death is so thin.”
On the first Saturday of each month, by appointment, Dancetta holds public tours of her butterfly farm. She hopes it’ll encourage more people to appreciate these beautiful insects, and to grow more butterfly plant-food in their yards. It’s her way of honoring Mackey’s memory.
Is she finally happy? She smiles. “I’m still metamorphisizing,” she laughs. “All of life is change.”
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