fat caterpillar

fat caterpillar, 2013

When October rolled around, I started cutting back the stand of fennel in my backyard bit by bit. The bees loved the flowers so I didn’t want to discourage them, but I also didn’t want a dispersion of hundreds of seeds as happened the year before. Everyday I would cut back the umbels that were transitioning from flowers to seeds, always checking to make sure there weren’t any anise swallowtail caterpillars that I was throwing in the compost heap.

After doing this task day after day for weeks, you can’t blame me for not checking too closely for caterpillars when I cut down the last bit of fennel.

The next day, there on the ground, was a caterpillar foraging through the fallen fennel (alliteration not intended). Argh! I thought. What do I do now? For several days I would go out in the neighborhood on a hunt for fennel and bring it back to the caterpillar. On the fourth day, I decided to put it in a jar. I thought as long as I was feeding it, I may as well enjoy the benefits of seeing it turn into a butterfly.

After a few more days, the caterpillar seemed pretty unhappy. It wasn’t moving much. Then it stopped eating. I felt very sad. I had tried to save this little creature, but it seemed it wasn’t meant to be. When I told this to friends, they reassured me that at least I had tried.

After not moving at all for a day, I was sure when I checked on it the following morning that it would just be lying curled up on the bottom of the jar. It was kind of curling up, and looking kind of brown, but it didn’t seem dead.

I happen to be sitting next to the jar when suddenly the caterpillar started moving like crazy. I saw that its skin had crack near its head and a bright green chrysalis was emerging. What the hell! I didn’t realize that the chrysalis emerged from inside the caterpillar. It wiggled and wiggled for about five minutes, and I managed to get it on the blurry video. When it stopped, I though it was just resting because it seemed like it hadn’t completely emerged. But it didn’t moved again.

caterpillar to chrysalis

caterpillar to chrysalis

I had always heard about how caterpillars become butterflies, and I found out several years ago that in that process the caterpillar completely liquifies inside the chrysalis before reforming into a butterfly. I’ve referred to it here. That is all very crazy. Now it’s gotten crazier. This same creature starts out as a caterpillar. Then, inside, it starts becoming the encasement for its future transformation. This literally bust out of its skin. Then it liquifies, reforms as a butterfly, and bust out of the chrysalis.

How does such a thing evolve? I didn’t realize that something that we all know about from an early age was so complicated and bizarre. Can you imagine if at some point, you wiggled out of your skin to be a mummy? It’s so weird. I have to admit, watching the caterpilalr/chrysalis actually made me feel a little  queasy.

Once upon a time, when I was young, I would see things in the external world as signs.  The world spoke to me, I just had watch it and pay attention. Even after I stopped believing this, E. would still say how she saw things as signs. Then she stopped talking about it. If you read the entries for Crows and Hawks Playing, you’ll see that many adults believe that natural events are signs for them personally. I’ve responded, as gently as I could, that its kind of absurd to think that other animals exist solely to convey coded messages to us personally. I mean, that’s really the height of egocentrism.  If you scroll down that page to March 12, you’ll see that I said this:

I think that it’s very easy to see other creatures on the planet as being symbols for our interpretation. I know I have had these feelings and interpreted experiences I have had in this very way — that a certain animal was conveying a symbolic message for me.

But as time has gone by, I have come to think that this type of perception is erroneous. Wild animals exist in a world of their own experience, on their own terms. They don’t act symbols for us, any more than they do for them. It’s somewhat humbling to realize that, to most of the elements of natural world, we as individuals are unimportant, if not completely below their perception.

If we peel away the layers of symbology, interpretation, and magical beliefs that we impose on nature, there’s a world that is amazing, stunning, and unbelievable just the same.

But, ha ha! I saw that caterpillar as a sign. Ironies of ironies!

I know,  I KNOW, that the caterpillar didn’t pop into existence solely to give me a message. Yet when I experienced these bizarre transformation from a creature who seemed to be dying I did actually think, well, there’s hope for me.

I have been slowly and painfully relinquishing my hold on a life that I dearly loved for a while now. I have to keep telling myself that I can never have that life again, but it’s hard to move on because I can’t imagine that I could be that happy again. K has said that this is a narrative I am telling myself. I think it’s more that I lost my narrative. That narrative was: yes, I suffered a lot in my life, but finally I got the happy life I deserved.

Well, so, that isn’t my story. So I don’t know what is.

Being a anise swallowtail caterpillar must be a happy, easy life. You crawl around in the sunshine eating tasty fennel all days long, getting fatter and bigger and feeling good. Then one day you don’t feel so well and you keep eating but it gets hard to move. Your skin starts to bother you. Then there’s something wrong with your mouth and you can’t eat anymore. Then your legs won’t work and you’re just stuck, feeling more and more uncomfortable until – bam! You have the uncontrollable urge to bust out of your skin. And that’s the last thought you have before you lose consciousness.

My story isn’t really parallel to this — especially the lost of consciousness, thankfully — but there’s certainly been many stages of discomfort that seem to be ending only to be a seque to another form of discomfort. And it seem to go on and on and on. I think: never mind happy, will I ever even feel comfortable again? It’s been such a long time.

It’s almost winter. That butterfly could emerge in the dead of winter, when it is so cold and there are so few flowers that it may not survive. Or it may never emerge because the conditions just aren’t right. Or it may wait until spring and be just fine.

So, yes, I am succumbing to a very old cliché and thinking that maybe, just maybe, something really great will come out of me from all this discomfort.  I won’t go on with the metaphor about emerging butterflies because it’s just too corny and hackneyed to say. You know what I’m feeling. I think it’s called hope.


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