Thursday, September 22, 2011

Caterpillar Wisdom

Caterpillars follow me. When I lived in New York City, I lived in a first floor apartment near Times Square and had the luxury of a back door that opened onto a small wooden deck. With my access to the "outdoors," I planted some basil and parsley in a window box so I could clip fresh herbs when I needed them. My hopes were dashed by fuzzy green caterpillars who devoured every last leaf of the plants. In fact, the single tree that grew in our courtyard attracted so many of these caterpillars that when they weren't eating my plants they would have races on the power lines that ran between the buildings. And on some days the caterpillars would rain down on my head when I was trying to enjoy some fresh air.

Our last home had a great space for a garden, so I planted my basil and some green bean seeds so my daughter, then a toddler, could watch them grow. And, of course, the caterpillars arrived. My daughter and I watched them crawl up walls, counted chrysalis hanging from the eaves of garages and marveled at the orange butterflies that arrived soon after. Let's just say we did not have a banner crop of beans that summer.  

Photo by Shawn Keagy
So when we arrived at the beach, I thought maybe I could escape having my succulent green herbs eaten before I got to them. But the tiniest of green inchworm caterpillars have turned my basil into Swiss cheese leaves.

I mentioned it to my sister. “You know, caterpillars are a symbol of transformation,” she said, sharing in the humor and trying to give meaning to the phenomena. I could hear her smiling on the other end of the phone. Yes, that would describe me—in a constant state of transformation. I don't dock my ship for too long in any introspective location--always diving for the next oyster to see what pearls might be hiding inside. Swimming against the current to find the places where I became what I am.

I imagine that living with me is both a fabulous journey and a continual process of trying to catch up to the place I have just departed. Lucky for my husband that these locations are internal. Or maybe not so lucky. Because they are not usually sunny locales, but dark places where I need a pick ax and a head lamp to find my way. Cavernous and womblike—just like that caterpillar's chrysalis. And just like the butterfly—the moment of flight is glorious, but short-lived. Soon eggs must be laid for the next generation of transformation. Back inside I go.

So I've decided to take a different approach to my garden. I read in a local newspaper that the milkweed plant is a primary food source for monarch butterflies and that many monarchs have already laid eggs on the milkweed plants in local nurseries. So I'm going to plant milkweed in my garden and embrace my affinity for caterpillars. Maybe watching their life cycle can help me appreciate my own. Right now I've got the munchies. Just like those caterpillars, I'm hungry to explore. Soon I'll be going inside to digest what I've been eating up. And then something in my life will transform. But until that butterfly moment arrives, I'll have the milkweed plant to remind me of what it takes to get there.   

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