The butterflies have been loving the zinnias this past month, which has allowed me to see more butterflies than I usually have. Or perhaps it is just that I'm paying more attention. I never realized there were more than just black swallowtails till this summer. These two are zebras, and they are followed by a giant swallowtail. It took me awhile to identify the latter one -- it apparently made it away from an encounter with a bird, but not without some cost. It had to keep fluttering non-stop in an effort to keep its balance while feeding, as you can see in the video clip.
Butterflies and caterpillars have been providing sparks of light for me this summer and I've been more aware than usual of their presence.
When I saw this very hungry caterpillar this past spring, it took a little research to figure out it was a black swallowtail caterpillar. I moved it from the brussels sprouts to the dill and it seemed much happier, but after a day or two it disappeared, perhaps into a chrysalis or perhaps to provide nourishment for a passing bird.
About a week later, I took a photograph of the unknown caterpillar below. As I was trying to learn a little more about the life cycle of black swallowtails recently, I realized that this is also likely a black swallowtail caterpillar, only at an earlier stage. Its fate is also unknown.
Perhaps this rather battle-worn black swallowtail butterfly feasting on my zinnia nectar is a descendant.
And the caterpillar below is the reason for the renewed interest in swallowtail life cycles. I found him last week while clearing a section of the garden in preparation for winter. This one I carried on to our screened-in porch, and provided with dill and parsley. I hoped to see it enter the chrysalis stage, and perhaps a diapause -- the extended time in the chrysalis stage that the late season caterpillars enter, resting in the chrysalis through the winter, emerging when the weather is again warm enough for them to thrive.
It hadn't done so by Monday, when we were getting ready to leave for several days. So I put it out in our parsley patch and hope that it will enter a chrysalis soon. I'll check the herb bed when we get back, but I've read that swallowtail chrysalis are notoriously hard to spot. I imagine that, as with so many encounters in life, this is a story whose unfolding I will never know, though I shared in it for a brief time. Blessings on your journey, little caterpillar. May you eat well and find rest and transformation.
In one of her essays in Dewdrops on Spiderwebs, Susan Classen tells of visiting two siblings in their mid-fifties, Charles and Molly. Charles and Molly are both learning disabled and living in a rural location, in a house with no running water or plumbing, and surrounded by junk.
But their flower garden caught my eye. I like flowers, so I asked about their garden. Pointing out one of their special flowers, they invited me to touch the soft bristles.
"It's like a powder puff," Charlie said grinning.
"I like the light purplish color," Molly added.
I stood in amazement, humbled by their appreciation of beauty. The flower was a thistle.
"We saw these growing last year in a ditch," Molly continued. "So we waited until the flowers dried, then we gathered the seeds and planted them here."
She offered to send me seeds when this year's blossoms dried. My amazement grew. Surely God "chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise...God chose what is low and despised" (1 Cor 1:27-28). Who says thistles are weeds? p. 29-30
Classen goes on to reflect about personal characteristics that she has defined as weeds to be uprooted rather than flowers to be enjoyed and begins to explore ways these traits can also be seen as something to be appreciated.
She ends with this thought:
I know I'm not alone in sometimes feeling dissatisfied with myself. Perhaps you will find it helpful, as I have, to look for beauty in what you've defined as thistles. How do those characteristics reflect your gifts? p 31.
More zinnia zanniness. Even when battered and beetle-bedecked, they are still celebrating with stars and an explosion of color.
Harvest time. Yesterday there was a colorful rainbow of heirloom tomatoes, suddenly ripening at the same time -- yellow Mt Joys, red Big Beef, Rose de Berne and Purple Prudens, Green Zebras, small Black Prince, and even smaller yellow pear tomatoes, and golden cherry tomatoes. They have their cracks and blemishes, but they're still tasty. And it's good they are ripening -- the weather is beginning to change. Geese are honking overhead. First frost is not far away.
And this particular harvest led to a gustatorial spark of light. Supper was spaghetti, with sauce made from tomatoes, zucchini, sweet peppers, basil, and oregano freshly picked from my garden, and sausage and onions that came from a friend's farm. And the salad was greens from the farmers' market. A wonderfully warming meal on a cool fall night, with the distant sound of cheers and horns coming from the GC soccer field. September!
From the opening lines of Dewdrops on Spiderwebs, by Susan Classen:
I am the breeze that nurtures all things green.
I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits.
I am the rain coming from the dew
that causes the grasses to laugh
with the joy of life.
God speaks to Hildegard of Bingen, 11th century
The other day my eye was caught by the sunlight streaming through the leaves of one of my geraniums. These shots fit well with one of the meditations in Classen's book that tells of a child just back from a school class field trip in the fall.
"Look!" she exclaimed. "This leaf is orange. This one is orange and green. And look at this one," she added excitedly, "It's all green!" When a green leaf calls forth awe and wonder, then all life is budding with reasons to celebrate! p. 38
We'll soon be seeing orange and red leaves again, but in the meantime, let's celebrate all things green.
And things blue -- though if your downloaded image of this dragonfly is big enough, you'll see the green as well.
It was a lovely afternoon for a trip to the Defries Calendar Garden just south of Goshen. Early September is apparently the time for purples, yellows, and greens, catching the light.
The combination of morning light, a heavy dew, and fall flowers makes for some glory-filled moments, thanks be to God.
Ten days ago the monarch caterpillar I found merrily munching milkweed along the millrace entered its chrysalis stage.
No matter how often I see one, a monarch chrysalis always strikes me as a green and golden luminescence. And it seems miraculous that I can see just a hint of the wing that is forming inside.
In her book When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd describes her mid-life time of depression and disorientation. At a critical point, she finds a chrysalis hanging from a tree branch and takes it home.
I found myself staring at the chrysalis, at this lump of brown silence. It overwhelmed me with its simple truth. A creature can separate from an old way of existence, enter a time of metamorphosis, and emerge to a new level of being.. . The life of the soul evolves and grows as we move through these three cycles [separation, transformation, emergence]. The process isn't a one-time experience but a spiraling journey that we undertake throughout life. Life is full of cocoons. We die and are reborn again and again. By repeatedly entering the spiral of separation, transformation and emergence, we're brought closer each time to wholeness and the True Self. p 78
Yesterday we could tell that emergence was about to happen for this butterfly -- the chrysalis started to darken.
By this morning, we could clearly see the orange and black wing through the clear shell.
An hour later, warmed by the sun, the butterfly emerged, patiently hanging on to its old case as its wings slowly straightened out and filled with the fluid it needed to fly.
And before long, it made its first short flight -- to the porch screen, where its wings glowed in the sunlight. We finally coaxed it on to a finger and got it out the door, where it fluttered awkwardly towards the crabapple tree, but didn't quite have the strength it needed yet. Instead, it found a quiet spot on the grass and then the fence, resting there for another hour or two, soaking in the sunshine and gradually pumping its wings. And finally it flew off, beginning its long journey to the west.
After a two year journey through darkness, much waiting and inner work, Sue too comes to a point where she recognizes she has come to a new space. She stands looking at the tree where she found her cocoon, long since hatched, and hopes that soon another cocoon will hang there. "The world needs such expressions of grace to remind us that when the heart waits, the Great Mystery begins." And she recalls the words of Annie Dillard: "Yes, it's tough, it's tough, that goes without saying. But isn't waiting itself a wonder...?" p 204.
May you too find wonder and delight as you enter your times of chrysalis waiting.
"Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"
I've taken on a prayer practice of looking for the moments of light in each day, whether actual or metaphorical, and then writing or posting photos of what I find.