Fourteen days to feast day and night on your favorite food? Party time! Your only food, the food your mother lived her whole life to find for you, laying her seed right where you would find it when you were born so you would be able to dig in. Chomp, chomp, chomp all day and all night. Ah, the smell and taste of the milkweed! The only food Monarch caterpillars like you will eat. You can’t get enough. You grow so fast that you shed your skin 4 times in 12 days!
With your immature eyes, you can’t really see how beautiful you grow to be, black and yellow and white stripes in a lovely organic pattern rippling over your tubular body, with adorable black antennae on both ends and sixteen shiny black feet with white socks. You have the zebra or tiger stripes of the insect world.
Which generation of this season are you? Do you know? Who keeps track? I have read that generations one, two and three only live two to six weeks as adult butterflies, but if you are the fourth generation? You have won the grand prize of a trip to Mexico for the winter, and back again next spring! So much responsibility – the lives of your children depend upon your return to this precious milkweed that feeds you. When did you become such a picky eater, developing such an intricate relationship with one plant species, the smell of it, the dream of it, drawing you from thousands of miles away?
Four generations in one summer, with the great grandchildren of your first spring babies carrying the legacy and hope for the next year. From our human perspective we can see your long story, the story of the multiple lifetimes your life, even though we usually can’t see our own. Who sees our long story? Maybe our ancestors? What if we could know more about the hopes and dreams, travails and wounds, of our great grandparents and/or our great grandchildren all in one life, one season? What would we do differently?
But first things first. Miracles have to happen. You will dissolve and be reformed into a lovely monarch butterfly. Do you have any idea of what you will become? Do you know that after you get too full to eat any more and get that overwhelming desire to find a safe place to hang upside down, and shed your last skin the 5th time, that the sleep that overtakes you won’t stop until you melt? At least you will be protected in a most beautiful green jewel case trimmed with gold. Is it painful for you to lose your last skin and all that you are? Does it feel like the end? Like death? Or do you just go to sleep with dreams of wings? Do you dream of flying? Do you have any idea of how even more beautiful you will become when you emerge from your sleep?
I have a confession. I go out to my garden every day intending to bask in Nature and connect with the Land, but often I just get caught up in the details of care taking. Pulling weeds, pruning over-zealous plants, planting new seeds, training new vines and looking for pests and diseases. Just a day before, I found a HUGE nasty hornworm that had eaten the tops off of three of my tomato plants overnight. Boy was I angry at him! How dare he! When I found him, he met a very quick demise. So, the next day when I saw a large caterpillar on one of my plants my quick instinct was to grab him and throw him out of the garden. Then in mid-flight, I said, OH NO! That was a monarch caterpillar!!! He was on the milkweed!! I was mortified. I rescued him and returned him to the milkweed plant, and he started munching away again within a few minutes. WHEW.
How quickly I went from thinking this caterpillar was ugly and harmful to seeing his full glory and Beauty. I remember briefly thinking the hornworm was rather lovely, for just a second, in between being grossed out by a horned caterpillar larger than my thumb, and wanting him OFF the tomato plants.
Maybe your mom said what mine always said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. If only we could see the pervasive Beauty in everything and everyone more often. Even if the Beauty is mixed with something that is uncomfortable or even harmful to us, there is usually a Beauty of some sort there. Beauty is not naïve and romantic. It is an essential way of seeing and healing our world.
I can’t wait to see if we have several monarch butterfly hatchlings in a couple of weeks and watch them gather strength for their long journey south. Maybe I can travel with them in my dreams, seeing all the Beauty in the world along the way. For how else can a butterfly see the world but as beautiful, as it looks for flowers to feed on everywhere it goes?