If you’ve read any of my columns you know that, each summer, I have the distinct pleasure of welcoming monarch butterflies to visit my backyard and lay their eggs on the milkweed plants I have had for a few years. It is always a special time for me to see the caterpillars feed on the plants and get bigger and bigger until it’s time to make a cocoon. I love to come home from work and check on them. The perceived safety of simply being able to wrap yourself up and take the time to become the butterfly you were meant to be is something I champion.
I suppose that is a beautiful metaphor for all of us to think about. Imagine something so innate deep within that you know what needs to be done to become your complete self? Ah the simplicity!
I would check on my chrysalises every morning and evening. I kept track of the requisite amount of time it took for the monarch to develop and waited for them to emerge. During the summer of 2020 I had so many caterpillars and butterflies, they were everywhere. It was the summer of COVID-19, and I think it really helped me to see that life, as difficult and uneasy as it was during that time, could still find a way to share the beauty and help us rise above the situation that we were all enmeshed in.
One caterpillar decided to make a cocoon on my screen door handle just outside my bedroom. I told my husband not to use that door to go outside until it had emerged and was safe. I’ll admit he looked at me and thought…seriously? In the end I won him over and, much to my surprise one evening when I got home, he said, “Jenny come here, I want to show you something.” I walked out to the backyard, and he pointed to a caterpillar that was sitting on the milkweed and proudly said, “I rescued it. It was trying to hang on near the kitchen window and I got a leaf and held it close so it could climb on it, after that I put it on this branch.”
I thanked him and told him, soon it will make a cocoon, and congratulations you have just completed your first course of Butterfly 101. He looked at me and I think he thought that I was a little over the top with all this caterpillar stuff, but I knew I had made a believer out of him.
I recalled many years back when my stepmother had given me a fountain sculpture made from tree bark with little holes and cups in and on it so you could run water through it as a fountain. It had stopped working but I kept the sculpture near the back door and one day I saw a carpenter bee fly into one of the openings. In fact there were a few of them, and each day they would go off on their journey and return home. Every now and then the queen bee would emerge. It was fascinating to watch.
One evening my husband was barbecuing and he had a plate of burgers, and the bees were a little too close and buzzing around. He was at the screen door, and he said, “It’s me or the bees!” I went outside and told him I was sorry and that I would move the sculpture to the side yard away from everything. He thanked me and to this day it’s still in the backyard, albeit far away from the barbecue and the back door. I would venture to guess they’re on their 10th generation and to this day they still reside there.
So, you can imagine my surprise when he had rescued the caterpillar, having had experienced the carpenter bee discussion years ago.
This past summer I didn’t have as many caterpillars as the prior year. In fact, I would sit and look for cocoons and be delighted with each one I would find. One was nestled on a branch in a potted plant that housed my lime tree; well, you can’t really call it a tree. I only get one lime a year but suffice to say the cocoon was there.
Another one was on the plant right near the back door, and another had made its home behind the fountain. After about 10 days it became obvious that two of the chrysalises were not going to have a butterfly emerge. I was disappointed.
One morning I went to look at the cocoon by the back door. It was still hanging from the branch that had many leaves on it. I saw that the coloring was off, and I knew it wasn’t going do anything else. I stared at the surrounding branches, and something caught my eye. Sitting behind the cocoon was another one. This one was open, showing that indeed a butterfly had emerged. I wondered what the chances were that I would even have had the opportunity to see it. Throughout the end of summer, the monarchs would fly around the hillside above my house, they would visit intermittently, and I would hold my arm out and whisper, “Land on me!”
As the autumn season arrived, and the slight change of the weather, I knew that it was almost time to prune my milkweed plants and let their period of dormancy begin. Thinking about next summer and my chance to do the “butterfly gig” again was comforting, and just as I was settling into the changing of the seasons, something quite magical occurred. I was in my front yard looking at the plants deciding if any needed tending to when I saw a caterpillar near my succulents. It wasn’t a Monarch caterpillar; this one was different. It was brown in color and curled upward a bit as if it was preparing to make a cocoon. After work, it was still sitting on the leaf of one of my succulents.
The next day I went to look for it, but it wasn’t there. But honestly, just having the chance to continue the “butterfly gig” into early November was quite special.
I thanked Mother Nature for her nurture, generosity and for extending her gift to me once again.
Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident.