Category Archives: Nature

Another post on transformation

I’ve been out of sorts lately. Feeling overwhelmed, overtaxed, under appreciated.

I notice a heaviness in the middle of my chest.

Now, I can’t remember a time when the heaviness wasn’t there.

“There’s a lot of change going on,” W says.

Our last two have left the nest. One just got his driver’s license and started community college. The other is off to college in Georgia.

“How many caterpillars do you have?” W asks.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Ten?”

At first, I don’t know what my caterpillaring has to do with my heavy chest. But then it hits me.

“Ugh,” I say at the obviousness of it all.

Every year, I grow milkweed in our yard. Monarch butterfly caterpillars only eat one thing. Milkweed.

The butterflies lay their pinhead-sized eggs on the underside of the leaves. I take clippings with eggs or newly hatched caterpillars into the house and put them into an empty 20-gallon aquarium where they’re safe from predators.

Our cats take turns sitting on top of the cage like furry mother hens.

How many caterpillars do you see?

The caterpillars gorge on the milkweed leaves. If you put your ear close, you can actually hear them chomping away. Nom nom. True story.

IMG_2555When the caterpillars get big and fat, they climb to the top of the cage and hang down in a J. They shed their skin and wrap themselves in a chrysalis. Inside this light green sac, they consume their own bodies (gruesome) and then emerge 10 to 14 days later as black and orange winged beauties (beautiful). It’s a narrative I can relate to.

Usually, I find one or two eggs or caterpillars.

This year, I lost count at 10.

That’s a lot of change, transition, transformation.

There’s so much out of my control right now.

It makes me feel unsafe and vulnerable.

I need to have faith that everything will be okay.

That everyone will transition according to plan.

Me included.

That we will paint ourselves the colors we like best, grow wings and fly.

More transformation, ugh, ugh, ugh

I released a total of 12 (I think) monarch butterflies. The last one flew away today.


Meet Alvin

I have a new friend, though. This toad that my son named Alvin.

He lives somewhere in our front yard and hops about when I come home at night.

Toad means crossroads, camouflage and watching and waiting before you make a move.

Toads are small but have loud voices. Toad’s message is don’t underestimate the power of your words.

Toad means transformation.

And I have to wonder if this is a stage or if this is just life.

Love birds

downloadOn my way home from my writers group, I saw two black crows by the side of the road. Giant crows with blue-black feathers and full, rounded breasts.

As they walked around inspecting the ground, each held a mouthful of dried straw, wild and tangled like a pile of fried noodles. No doubt, they were building a nest.

I smiled thinking about how nice it is to have a partner in life. Someone to share a cold gray March day. Someone to help build a cozy nest.

Today’s feelings: happy, grateful

* * *

What makes you happy these days? What are you grateful for? 


IMG_1511Smack in the middle of the week, we cruise the Hubbard Glacier.

It’s a wall of ice approximately 75 miles long and 1,200 feet deep.

The glacier is the most beautiful shade of blue I’ve ever seen. The brilliant blue of a rare bird or a Van Gogh sky.

The blue color is an optical illusion. Something about the sun and the ice and refracted light. I don’t pay attention because I want to believe this shade of blue is real.

This blue, the color of a diamond or a lover’s eyes.

IMG_1480I drink a bottle of beer because I want to feel the chill of the ice inside me. W drinks a coffee with Kahlua.

As we get closer, we hear a noise that sounds like thunder and watch as a chunk of ice falls from the glacier and into the ocean, leaving behind a large puff of white.

We feel the repeated rumbles in our bones.

Ohh and ahh at the explosions of white.

Hubbard Glacier is an advancing glacier, which means it’s being replenished by precipitation faster than it’s melting.

The ocean is blue, too. A dark blue like a new pair of jeans.

IMG_1503Pieces of ice float in it as if it were a giant cocktail. I angle my ear to the water to better hear the crackle and pop.

I want to reach out and dip a finger in the cold blue water. Store the chill for those times I need to remind myself that I’m alive.

Today, I want to jump into the icy water.

And wait for the roar.

As pieces of me fall off, sending smoke signals to the universe.

Until nothing is left but the color blue.


RaccoonWhen I was a kid, my favorite animal was the raccoon.

I loved these little guys.

I collected ceramic raccoon figures.

I drew raccoons.

I painted raccoons.

They were mischievous rascals.  Cute and cuddly critters.  (I didn’t know about rabies back then.)

They wore furry black masks like they had something to hide.  Or were ready to knock over a liquor store.

I never made the connection until recently.  That I was the raccoon hiding behind my mask.

Raccoons don’t hold the same appeal for me these days.

Raccoon plaqueI found this little guy in a box of stuff that my mom had given to me.  He had been affixed to my bedroom door in my parents’ house for many years, guarding against ghosts and kidnappers and a little brother.

I think about getting rid of him but can’t seem to do so.

I look up raccoon totem and this is what I find:

Masks are one of the tools of transformation.
It helps us to change what we are into what we want to be.

Raccoons also teach you how to put asleep the part of you that is not needed
and awaken the aspect of yourself that is.

I will place my raccoon friend on my closet door as a reminder.  A reminder of change and growth, of new beginnings and being who I was always meant to be.


Lady luck and shooting stars

It’s December, but I see them everywhere.

LadybugI spot the first one on a windowsill in the upstairs bathroom.  A lonely lady bug walking along the painted white ledge while the outside cold seeps in through the gaps and cracks of the old window.

I offer my hand and she crawls onto it.  Her hard shell belies her delicate nature.  I admire her armor, which protects her sensitive parts from the world.  We are alike in that way.

As the month of December passes, I find more.  One on my bedside table.  Another on my bedroom windowsill.  Several end up on the bed, pacing back and forth on the striped flannel sheets.  I find one under my pillow as I’m positioning it for the night.  It’s as if someone else placed a wish there for me.  The universe, perhaps.  If you believe in those sorts of things.

I believe in those sorts of things.  Omens.  Signs.  Signs from God.  Signs from the universe.

I pay attention when a bevy of ladybugs takes up residence in my house in the middle of December.  And I seem to be the only one to spot them.

I know it is my animal totem.  At least one of them.  The one that matters at this moment.

But I don’t look it up.  I don’t want to know what it means.

Good luck, I imagine.  They are lucky ladybugs after all.

I don’t want to know any more.

December is my month to hibernate, to rest up for 2015.  I deserve it.  The nothingness.  I’ve earned it.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

On New Year’s Day, I look up ladybug as an animal totem.  It means “wish fulfilled.”  The appearance of a lady bug heralds a time of luck and protection in which wishes begin to be fulfilled.

I know that for my wishes to come true, I have to write.

I wonder why I resist so much.  Sometimes it seems like the hardest thing to do in the world is to pick up a pen and scratch out a few sentences.  Good sentences or bad sentences, it doesn’t matter.  Starting is always hard.

Even on the first day of the new year I don’t want to write.

No shame.

No shame.

W shuts off the L Word reruns we are watching on Netflix.  Like she is my mother and knows what’s best for me.

She says she is helping me.

I just want to watch The L Word.

I figure I could be known for that.  Watching The L Word over and over and over again.  It was a groundbreaking drama.  Ten years ago.  But still.  Groundbreaking.  Where’s the shame in that?

Or online Scrabble.  I could just play Scrabble on my iPad on the intermediate setting.  How could there be any shame in Scrabble, America’s favorite word game?

But what I really want to be known as is a writer, which means I must write.

About ladybugs or The L Word or Scrabble.  It doesn’t really matter.  I just need to write.

* * *

Shooting StarDriving home on New Year’s Eve, we see a shooting star.

It’s a dot of white light that seems to fall from the sky.  A singular blip like the electronic “ball” in the game Pong.  It’s there and then it isn’t.

“Did you see that?” W asks.

“I did.”

It seems almost too perfect.  A shooting star to start off the new year.

I freeze inside.  Hold my breath.  I am too afraid to ask for anything, to make a wish.

Now, I am wondering if it is too late.  What’s the expiration date on a shooting star?

But maybe the wish part is optional.

Maybe it was the universe winking its eye.  Saying I’ve got this, I’ve got you.  No worries.  2015 is going to be epic.  Just you wait and see.

The lesbians and the land beaver

I thought I’d back up and explain that whole groundhog thing yesterday.

It all started last Friday.  I was walking down the steps to the basement when I saw him.  He was about as big as a football and walking in a nonchalant manner across the middle of the basement floor.

“Oh, hello,” I imagined him saying in a voice quite like Winnie the Pooh.  “Pleasant day, isn’t it?”

Holy shit.

I rounded up the kids to act as my human shield share in the adventure and learn something about animals and nature.  Further inspection revealed that the groundhog — also known as a woodchuck, whistle-pig or land beaver — was living in a mass of insulation wedged under our oil heater.  We heard rustling in this “nest” but were unable to see the critter, even though the kids shined the  flashlights at the nest and then into each other’s eyes.

Translation: There’s a land beaver inside our house!

I called W at work.  When she didn’t answer, I texted three letters: OMG.  Because texting “there’s a land beaver in our basement” seemed too weird and where was the surprise in that?  I like to keep that woman on her toes.

I finally got in touch with W and told her about the groundhog.

She e-mailed contact information for a wild animal removal company.  After a quick phone call, I learned that it would cost $295 to have someone come out to the house and set a trap.  Each additional trip back to check the trap would cost $95.

When W got home, she made some additional calls.  Our options were:

1. Live with the groundhog (Yes, someone actually suggested this.  As if having a groundhog roommate was a sensible idea.  Really, he’s very polite and quiet, even though he might have rabies, eats a lot of salad and poops in a very random manner.)

2. Hire an exterminator.

3. Buy a humane trap.

We eventually decided on #3, although I was leaning toward #1.  I mean, it would make a great book and all — The Lesbians and the Land Beaver — and we already sleep with a bunch of cats in our bed.  Let me tell you, this little guy would have looked adorable in a striped nightcap.

W went out to buy a trap.

I should probably add here that I apparently told W to handle this.  I didn’t mean it in a I-take-care-of-everything-around-here kind of way so small, rabies-carrying mammals trapped inside the house are your purview.  I just had a full plate that day and was delegating household responsibilities.

W wondered out loud why her big, strong butch couldn’t handle one wayward land beaver.

Anyway, W bought a trap for $34.99.  It even came with a free trap for chipmunks and other small creatures.  Bonus.  I mean, who doesn’t love a good BOGO sale?

We baited the trap with apple slices and waited.  And waited.

The weekend came and went, and there was no sign of the groundhog.  Nothing on Monday or Tuesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was working at my desk when I heard scratching on the inside of the French doors that we use to close off our front room.  I had assumed that one of the cats was trapped inside.  As I walked toward the doors, I saw that it wasn’t a cat trapped in the room but the groundhog.

I called the youngest kid to go into the room with a broom, a bucket and a bed sheet help me trap the critter.  By this time, the groundhog had scurried under furniture in the room.

The child wanted to know why I was the only person to see the groundhog.

I started to wonder that myself.  Was there really a groundhog trapped inside our house?  Was I going crazy?  Or maybe I was the only person who could see this land beaver (sort of like the Sixth Sense only with groundhogs instead of dead people).  Maybe I was the land beaver whisperer.  It was all so strange and confusing.

I called W at work.  “I can’t come home now to take care of it,” she said, as if I had designated her  house groundhog wrangler for life.

“I know, I’ll take care of it,” I said.

I sent our youngest inside the room to place the trap.

“Don’t worry, I’ll close the door behind you and hold it closed so that the groundhog can’t get out,” I assured him.

After the trap was set, we barricaded the door.  Just in case the groundhog decided to go all Ninja on us.

And then we waited.  I went back to typing at my computer to maintain an air of normalcy.

In a bit, I heard some noise, and there was the groundhog trying to get the bait from the wrong end of the trap.  This little guy needed GPS.

I sent the youngest back in the room to leave a trail of lettuce and snow peas leading to the entrance of the trap.  I was hoping the the critter wasn’t familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel

“Don’t worry, I’ll close the door behind you and hold it closed so that the groundhog can’t get out,” I assured the child once again.

Again, he wanted to know why I was the only person to see the groundhog.

About 20 minutes later, I heard a loud snap.  There sat the groundhog inside the cage.  I had captured the elusive land beaver.  I was a hero.  A land beaver tamer.  I felt very brave and very butch.

The elusive land beaver

* * *

Lesson learned:

A land beaver in hand is worth two in the bush.

Rest in peace

When we return from our D.C. trip, the caterpillar has eaten and grown but is hanging oddly from a milkweed leaf.  His middle feet are gripping the leaf, and he is hanging like an upside down U.  It looks suspicious.  Like a botched suicide attempt.

He is alive, though.  I poke at him to make sure.

Because my previous poking and prodding had proved successful and gotten the little guy to resume eating, I decide to play Mother Nature and try again.

The caterpillar ends up free falling to the bottom of the tank.  I calculate the drop to be equal to a three-story fall if the caterpillar had been a person.  “Definitely survivable,” I say to myself.

I pick up his limp body and gently place him on a milkweed leaf.  He lies on his side with a crooked antenna and his many pairs of feet in mid air.

I watch and wait.  He twitches a few times, I think.

I tell W.

“There was something wrong with him, baby,” she says.

This morning, the little guy is laying on the tank’s glass bottom.  His yellow and black body forms an exclamation point.  I’m dead!, he shouts.

But, I’m not sure.  I now know not to touch him.

Midday I accidentally drop a full basket of laundry by the tank.  The caterpillar jumps up in the air.  For just a second, I think he’s alive.  I drop the laundry basket again.  He pops up again.  Drop.  Pop.  Drop.  Pop.  Drop.  Pop.  There’s a physics lesson here, but it is lost on me.

By dinnertime, I have abandoned all hope.  I discard the wilting milkweed and use a tissue to hold the little guy in my hand.

He is soft — not stiff — and feels cold.  I hold him for a while and gently run my finger down his back.  He is soft and smooth like velvet.  He is beautiful.

I am sad that he didn’t get the chance to transform into a black and orange winged beauty.  I know now that he didn’t need to change to be beautiful.

I dig a small hole and bury him underneath our butterfly bush.  I find a small rock and place it on top.

Rest in peace, little guy.  Rest in peace.

Final resting place

Transformation is hard

It’s a summer ritual.  Every August, we’re on the lookout for baby monarch butterflies in the form of caterpillars or caterpillar eggs.

If found, we bring them inside and place them in a small empty fish tank, along with the food they’ll need to transform into a monarch butterfly.

Even with three rambunctious boys, inside is much safer than the great outdoors where the fragile creatures could be gobbled up by a larger bug or washed away during a heavy rainstorm.

We watch the daily progress, amazed by nature.  Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed, and they gorge on the large leaves.  As they grow, they eat more and more food and leave behind more and more droppings.  Yes, everyone poops, even caterpillars.

Eventually, they’ll grow to be fat and about two inches long, and they’ll attach themselves to the top of the habitat.  Each caterpillar will then split its skin and form a chrysalis (think of it as a bright green sleeping bag) that it will stay inside for a little more than a week before emerging as a brilliant orange and black butterfly.

That, in a nutshell, is how a monarch caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.

The caterpillars are hardwired to do this, and that’s what makes it all so fascinating.  They are programmed to eat and eat and eat, find a safe place to hang and then hide themselves away until it’s time for their big reveal as a butterfly.  The monarchs around here make their way to Mexico, so I like to think of their coming out party as a quinceanera of sorts.

Hatching monarchs is a relatively stress-free hobby.  Until this year.

I found this year’s caterpillar on milkweed that I planted in our front yard right next to a giant butterfly bush.  So ingenious, I thought.  The plan was that monarch butterflies would be attracted to the butterfly bush and would lay their eggs on the neighboring milkweed.  It was a solid business plan.  Like placing a Red Roof Inn right to a strip club.

I set the little guy up in usual fashion with a stalk of homegrown milkweed sticking out of a plastic water bottle.  I placed him on a leaf and prepared for nature to take its course.

Except this little guy seems to be a bit confused.  He must have missed the memo from Mother Nature.  Subject: Eat and poop

The little guy started eating, but then stopped.  For a 12-hour period or so, he just lay listlessly on the same leaf.  No eating, no pooping.  I figured that he was just taking a break, but then I got nervous.  I poked him with my finger to make sure that he was still alive.  “C’mon, buddy, you’ve got to eat,” I told him.  He formed a U-shape with his body, clinging tightly to the leaf with his tiny feet.

I tried some additional poking and prodding and words of encouragement.  I was Anthony Robbins trying to get a little green caterpillar to walk across the hot coals of metamorphosis.

I finally gave up and went back to my work because I’m not really Anthony Robbins and I don’t get paid to motivate people let alone insects.

Regardless of my lack of credentials, my pep talk must have worked.  When I checked on the little guy a bit later, he was eating!  Such a relief.

Anyway, when W (or wife, not in the legal sense because we live in Pennsylvania but in ever other way that matters because we had a commitment ceremony last year) came home from work yesterday, she was surprised that the little guy was still alive.  “I thought he was dead, but I didn’t want to upset you,” she said.

Just when we thought we were out of the woods, we came downstairs this morning and saw that the little guy appeared to be attaching himself to the lid of the aquarium.

“No, no, little guy.  You’re not ready yet,” I told him.

W thought he was done.  And, a little touched in the head.

“No, he’s just a little confused.  He can still do it.  I WILL NOT be digging a grave for this caterpillar,” I said firmly.

After W left, I thought about dislodging the little guy from the top of the tank and moving him to a leaf.  I was worried that I’d hurt him or disrupt his cycle if he was prematurely forming his sleeping bag.  Maybe he was just really tired and thought he’d forgo all the eating and pooping and just call it a summer.  Spin a little hammock and put up his 16 tiny feet.

Maybe he’d emerge as a really tiny butterfly.  A dwarf monarch.  “How cute,” all of the other butterflies would say.

When I checked on him this afternoon, he had descended from the top of the cage and had resumed eating.  A lot.

Little guy eats

I texted W the news.

Me: Caterpillar is eating!

W: Are you kidding me?

Me: No.  On a leaf.  Ate a lot this a.m.

W: I think there’s something wrong with him.

Me: He’s ok.  Transformation is hard.

W: It is.