Tag Archives: butterflies

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.

Metamorphosis and the butch butterfly

Sometimes I think W deserves someone better than me.

Sometimes means during the past few weeks.

I have been moody.

Imagine this storm cloud in flannel

Imagine this storm cloud in flannel.

Not 24/7 moody. That would be full-blown depression. Instead, I have been like a black storm cloud in the summer heat, unpredictable and quick to rain on everyone’s parade.

“You are a lucky woman,” I tell W sometimes.

I call her by her full name when I say this. She thinks it’s cute.

I know this because she crinkles her nose.

I haven’t called her a lucky woman for awhile.

Imagine this dude in flannel.

Imagine this dude in flannel.

I wonder if I am moody because I’m a butch. A brooding butch chiseled out of stone and always over thinking things until smoke comes out my ears and my flannel is at risk of catching on fire.

As a general rule, butches are not perky or bubbly or given nicknames like Sunshine or Daisy.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer prone to endless inner reflection.  Sylvia Plath in a pair of Dr. Marten’s boots.

It could be a combination of the two.  A butch writer.  W never had a chance.

We had a spirited discussion last weekend about the word “wife.” About how W has a desire to use the word to describe me while I would cringe inside about such a female-identified word being used in reference to me.

Later, I told W she should refer to me as her “female lover” just for the shock factor.

“I can’t win,” she says.

She’s right.

I think it’s because I still haven’t figured out who I am. It sounds silly because I am in my 40s. But I still feel like I am in a state of flux, a work in progress.

I wonder if butch is just a transition. Just another phase in my metamorphosis from tomboy to lesbian to soft butch to butch to something else.

When I used to travel to my alma mater to meet up with my college pals, I would drive for as long as I could before stopping for something to drink or to use a restroom.  I usually stopped about two-and-a-half hours into the trip at a McDonalds in Danville, a small town near the center of Pennsylvania.  I would grab two cheeseburgers and a vanilla shake and continue on, excited to see my friends and pop open a cold beer.  I wonder if butch is Danville.  A pit stop and not a destination.

Maybe I'm a butch butterfly after all.

Maybe I’m a butch butterfly after all.

Or is my metamorphosis complete?  Maybe I’m already a butterfly (a butterfly in a flannel shirt and combat boots) and just haven’t realized it yet.

* * *

What about you?  Are you a moody butch or in a relationship with one?  Are you still a work in progress or is your transformation complete?

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.