Last week, I brought home a dozen roses which, unbeknownst to me, had been harboring a little monarch caterpillar. On Monday, I found the little apartment-crashing butterfly in a beautiful jade chrysalis hanging from the edge of my table. It was early in the morning, and it took me a minute to process it - for a split second, it registered as some sort of jewelry that might have caught from a necklace I’d never seen. But no, it was what it was. (Which was something I had to look up online. A monarch! Some little gift from the universe.) A lardy little caterpillar inched off a vast expanse of tabletop, found her perfect enough place, and shut down from the world for the biggest change of her life - all while I was too busy bustling around to see her over there in that rarely used side of the room.
So I made her some space in a big jar, and as per instructions gleaned online, re-hung her from some sewing string (a complimentary green) with some paper towel for her to amble about on when the time came. I’m heartbroken to say that, with my unsteady hands, I dropped the little thing to the floor during this maneuver, and I was absolutely knotted with guilt that I may have hurt her. Which meant… well, which meant that I embarrassingly started to talk to her a little, give her some gently whispered morning pep talks to let her know that I was really hoping she would make it. That I’d find some proper flowers for her, if and when she was ready.
Four days went by, and she hung there in silence, a glorified lima bean. A gorgeous, milky jade, then a deeper, semi-transparent shade, and, suddenly, I could see her wings. She was making it! This morning, the taciturn little creature pulled herself out, hanging in a heavy daze of sleep for several hours. Stretched, dried off her big wings (how did she ever fit in there?), got the blood moving. She’s sitting next to me now, upside down and pumping her wings, practicing in place what she’s always known to do.
I feel like I’ve been dropped into one of Barbara Kingsolver’s essays, happening upon this cold-blooded creature’s little life, learning its moods. I’ll set her off in a few hours - where will she end up? I’m excited to imagine. Maybe Mexico, maybe a fat housecat’s belly. I wish I could keep her here to make sure that second one never happens, but then that’s the risk. To maybe make it to Michoacán, to meet a mate, to make a life for the next beautiful round of butterflies. “What a stroke of luck. What a singular brute feat of outrageous fortune: to be born to citizenship in the Animal Kingdom. Jump for joy, hallelujah! Even a desert has tides.”
[From Barabara Kingsolver’s High Tide in Tucson]
Update, 4pm: She’s off!