Last weekend I was in southwestern Pennsylvania for some planning meetings at Holy Ground Retreat Center. Friday morning I took a walk through the misty woods and startled three deer who ran ahead of me down this path. One stopped to look back. Can you see her in the photo below?
Other gifts from the woods included forest floor scenes, the tracings of insects and the curlicues of grape vines, a fog-soaked caterpillar, a spider-made design and a man-made design..
Somehow we managed to end up with a baker's dozen of monarch caterpillars on our back porch the past few weeks. After years of occasionally looking at milkweed and wondering how other people managed to find monarch caterpillars, in recent years I've sometimes found one or two. I'd bring them home, put them in a quart jar with airholes, feed them milkweed leaves and watch with fascination the cycle of caterpillar into chrysalis into butterfly.
Last year I didn't see even one monarch butterfly, let alone any caterpillars. I heard that between overly cold weather where they overwinter in Mexico and the spraying of pesticides on milkweed near fields where they travel, their future is looking dicey.
So I was delighted to spot a couple of healthy looking caterpillars on milkweed along the millrace. I left the big ones to manage on their own, and brought the young one pictured below home. It went through several instars, the stages where the caterpillar sheds its skin, allowing it to keep growing, and eventually we found it hanging from the top of the jar, in the typical "J" shape that means it's about to form the chrysalis. Sure enough, soon there was the light green case with its gold trim, and it is still out on our back porch, with the hidden work of changing into a monarch butterfly.
In the meantime, as I brought in milkweed from our backyard for it to eat, I discovered another, larger caterpillar and then on a nearby small milkweed, four eggs. For a week, it seemed I could not bring in a milkweed leaf without discovering an egg or a newly hatched caterpillar. The count at the moment is nine chrysalis, one caterpillar hanging in a "J" and two caterpillars still chowing down on milkweed. The largest caterpillar went in to chrysalis a day or so after I brought it in, and emerged last Tuesday. I missed the emergence, but discovered it while its wings were drying. Unfortunately I had to leave for a meeting and so didn't see it take flight.
John and I did get to see several of the caterpillars enter the chrysalis stage, their caterpillar skins splitting, revealing the pale green shape underneath, gradually shrinking and hardening into the jade case. Fascinating -- as will be the emergence of a dozen butterflies in 10- 14 days. And then either this generation or the next will fly down to Michoacan, Mexico, spending the winter with millions of other monarchs there. Amazing!
Some sights from my vegetable garden this week. The tomatoes are finally starting to ripen, though I'm not sure whether this week's blossoms will make it to ripened-fruit stage. The tall, feathery dill are volunteers, but no surprise -- they self-sow and I always leave some to provide fresh dill weed for potato or cucumber salads. And the swallowtail caterpillars seem to like it too. There are a few other volunteers -- one tall sunflower, a red potato plant, and a vine full of what is probably cantalope. Too bad I can't photograph the tastes of all these goodies. And if anyone needs a few zuchinnis, just ask!
Dewdrops weren't the only thing I saw on my walk earlier this week. Ducks, monarch caterpillars, and dragonflies were out and about, enjoying the sunny morning as much as I was.
A couple of the ducks -- Mom and one duckling.
Near the Waverly Street bridge I found this milkweed plant, complete with a very hungry caterpillar.
And then the close-up view....
And on another nearby milkweed. . peek-a-boo!
And as I took photos of the caterpillar above from several angles, I discovered the dragonfly below, well camouflaged.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"