The past few days have been have been filled with the emergence of nearly fifty of my beautiful monarch butterflies. Raising them from caterpillars and now watching their amazing rebirths has been a real inspiration for me. The process has once again brought to mind how miraculous nature is all on her own, without any human intervention needed or desired, and how deeply connected to it I feel.
The monarchs have become a fascinating journey for me, as much for their unique story as what they have brought to life inside me. They have inspired poems and writing, and been the subject of tricky but occasionally wonderful photographs, when I manage to catch one on camera.
It is something I wish everyone could witness and appreciate, and then perhaps they would come to value the natural world a lot more, and be convinced it is a worthwhile effort to both protect and preserve it, and to allow those places and things that are still wild to remain unspoiled, or at least to leave them room to grow.
And the butterflies have also been a constant reminder of hope and renewal, in the wake of all the terrible tragedies recently from the hurricanes and earthquakes, and other losses both near and far. Nature has a cruel side, too, to be sure. So maybe it is a small thing to find joy or comfort in; but sometimes that is all a person needs.
I have released two groups of butterflies, and there are two more yet to go. Most are in chrysalises and should emerge next week. I have only a few left that are still caterpillars, late bloomers that I accidentally acquired when picking milkweed for the others. The eggs are very small and almost impossible to see on the leaves. So they will be around until nearly the end of October, I expect.
Watching them go into chrysalis was fascinating; watching them come out, equally so, and even more remarkable, in many ways.
The first one I actually saw at first appeared deformed. The chrysalis grew completely clear, until all I could see inside was the black and orange of wings. Then it began to split open. Headfirst, the butterfly emerged into the world. But when the wings followed they were stubby and crumpled, the abdomen big and round. Never having seen it before, I thought something must be wrong. How could such a funny looking thing be a normal monarch?
Almost instantly, I began looking up how to care for flightless butterflies. Which I would have done, silly as it sounds, for the several weeks that is their usual lifespan.
But when I came back outside to check on it after a few minutes, the butterfly’s body had begun adjusting to its freedom from the confines of the chrysalis. The abdomen had grown long and slender, and the wings had begun to stretch out. For awhile they hung floppy and damp, like wet paper towels. Gradually, over the course of several more minutes, the seemingly deformed newbie transformed again before my eyes into a full grown monarch butterfly.
More and more followed in a similar fashion, and though watching them come out I knew now the whole process was perfectly normal, it continued to amaze me over and over again just the same.
Last night I learned how to tell the males from the females, a tip I wish I’d known before to have made a count of who was what (and chosen more appropriate names). The males have two black spots on their lower wings to help identify them. Like a good mom, I feel responsible for knowing who’s who, having provided for and nurtured them over the past few weeks.
And though unintentionally, they have given me back so much in return. They have helped me wake up, and come back to myself again. And they have given me a sense of individual purpose while still being part of something greater than myself, which I haven’t felt in a long time.
Bringing the butterflies out into the field in the afternoon sun for release was my proudest moment, although I was also nervous and somewhat sad to see them go, knowing they would be on their own now. I let them warm up for awhile (the sun energizes them), and when they became really active and flying around inside the mesh enclosure I gave them, I knew it was time to set them free.
Some found their way toward the enclosure’s opening on their own, and some I helped out, releasing them from the tip of my finger. Most went into nearby trees and shrubs at first to adjust to their new surroundings; some disappeared into the ocean of grass and wildflowers of the field; and a few lingered around the house and yard, as if they were a bit reluctant to leave, just as I was to let them go.
Although I did love watching them fly off, it was bittersweet– I had to say my hellos and goodbyes to them, all within the same day.
But I am truly grateful to have had such an experience. Living in the country and feeling connected to nature has many blessings for a someone like me. It’s a place where you can bear witness to her beauty in its many forms, like the with butterflies, and feel a real part of the natural order of things.
Which always includes seeing death, of course, and loss. I lost a few of my caterpillars, and I know not all of the butterflies will make it south. But becoming increasingly connected to life itself– even its many struggles– is the thing that’s becoming most important to me, I believe, and why I feel myself growing ever more attached to my own life here, and what I’ve learned from it, as time passes.
So as the season changes and the monarchs continue to emerge and take flight on their journeys, I go on being reminded of the transformations that have occurred in me, too, of my growth. My mind, body, and spirit are taking shape, ready for my own journey still to unfold, like the wings of a newborn butterfly beginning to open.