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!
On our visit to Deception Pass State Park in Washington, we hiked from Bowman Bay over to Rosario Beach, where we found more tide pools. The occupants had some similarities with those of the Oregon tide pools and some differences. The hermit crabs were particularly lively -- the second picture below is a video of what I saw, not speeded up! (If you receive this blog by email, you may need to go to the website itself in order to see it. John's mobile device just has a blank between the two still shots of tide pool inhabitants.)
There is also a large wooden sculpture, portraying the Samish Indian story of Kwkwallwt, a young Samish maiden who is courted by a mysterious man from the sea. At first her family does not want to let her go to him, and as a result the sea withholds its fruits. Finally they allow her to join him, asking that she come back once a year to visit. The carving shows one of her visits, as she gradually becomes more and more attuned to the sea, covered with barnacles and small fish. In the end, she stays in the sea all year round, and the Samish people receive an abundance of gifts from the sea.
I've been musing on the fleeting beauty of the morning glories and day lilies in my garden -- each bloom in flower for less than a day, but more blooms there the next day, sometimes in rain and sometimes in sunlight. This passage from Discernment, a book gathered from writings by Henri Nouwen, edited by Michael Christensen and Rebecca Laird, struck me as fitting well.
"The rain is a sign of God's blessing," said Abbot John Eudes in a talk on a special Sunday during the Eucharist at the Abbey of the Geness, when I was there on retreat years ago. What he said about God in creation gave me a fuller sense of how God is always present.
"The Hebrew word for 'good' and 'blessing' at times means rain," Father John explained. "God is not far from us that we should have to descend to the depths of the sea or ascend to the clouds to find him. God's presence is in the things that are closest to us, things that we touch and feel, that we move and live with day by day. While it is true that God is a hidden presence, we have only to let nature speak to us about the God who is everywhere."
"When I walk into a garden," he continued, "I can embrace the present moment by pondering a single flower. The more beautiful and effervescent the flower, the more elusive and fragile is its life. Beauty by its nature is fragile. Touch it too roughly and it's gone, grasp it too firmly and its petals fall away. It must be held onto lightly and gazed on attentively or it slips away. You cannot analyze it or pull it apart to see what it's made of or how it got there, if you want to experience the flower in the field. So too, are our lives. Concrete yet so elusive.For who can fully analyze our lives or understand their many ways? But we can taste and feel them in the moment and refuse to pull them apart like the petals of a flower." Father John Eudes was expressing what Julian of Norwich and others knew: that "everything has being through the love of God." Be it a small flower or a hazelnut or any other created thing, something of God can be found in it. p. 57
The spring equinox, so today we are standing on the threshold between fall/winter and spring/summer -- and today was a day that held glimpses of both. As I walked across campus this morning, I heard the soft cooing of a mourning dove, a forerunner of the summer days ahead. The sun slid between puffy clouds of gray, sending a welcome shaft of sunlight across the bare trees ahead of me -- and when I looked towards the east, I discovered a gauzy veil of dancing snowflakes. They were hardly visible when I looked west, except for an occasional large flake that caught the light. And then there was the windchill that took the temperature down into the teens. Huddled in my winter coat and scarf, I felt a kinship with these early purple crocuses, and their decision to stay furled this morning.
In a south facing bed, the yellow and white crocus were cautious, but started to loosen up as the sun touched them, and later brought a welcome touch of golden light.
The photo of the snowdrops is from a warmer day last week. I took it just in time -- they are pretty much done now. I wanted to commemorate my delight in their nearly two months of blooming, hidden again and again under snow and yet still standing. There's also a touch of summer in this photo. A bee scrambled headfirst into one of the blossoms and if you look closely, you may be able to spot where it's hiding.
Yesterday was the first Sunday in Advent, and also our annual Messiah Sing at Assembly Mennonite. As always, the lighting of the Advent candle was a light-filled moment. The fourth and fifth graders ushered the candle lighter in with a simple procession/dance; the banner and the table visuals were created by the MYF. Later the rafters rang as over 200 people filled the worship space to join in singing excerpts from Handel's Messiah.
I heard the Hallelujah chorus from the kitchen, where I was helping ready a plenitude of potluck dishes -- casseroles, crockpot concoctions, salads, breads, desserts, and more. Some dishes were familiar -- Dana's semeles with honey butter, carefully prepared by his Sunday School class, Steve's massive cooker full of rice and chicken, Lois' taco salad, Joy's quiches. Others were new and tempting --shrimp salad, lemon cardamon rice pudding, variations of rice and bean dishes from many lands. The wealth of diversity was echoed in the ages and faces of those that soon sat down to enjoy the feast. I wish I had photos, but I was too busy helping refill the tables.
Thinking of the seasonal metaphor I explored last week, Assembly is in the spring paradox stage. We've come through a period where death touched us closely and where new life has also been vibrant. We have ten babies born in 2012 among us, and several more on the way. Thanks to the baby boom and to newcomers to Goshen who have joined us in recent years, we face all the challenges and opportunities that such growth brings.
One of those opportunities has been "Assembly North." With the support of the Assembly Leadership Group, a group of about 20 people began meeting this summer to explore the possibility for another Assembly-related worship group. Rather than working out all the details ahead of time, we took on the mantra "The Way is made by walking" and set out to see what might happen.
This fall we began meeting regularly at 11:00 on Sunday mornings at Faith House for a time of worship and a simple meal together. During the month of November, about half of us shared about the invitations from God that we've sensed as individuals, and ways that we are living those out, or new invitations we're beginning to glimpse. It has been a good way to learn more about each other and the 'sparks sown in us like seed,' to borrow a phrase from "What is this place," the first song in the Hymnal Worship Book.
A week ago we culminated that sharing with a candle lighting ceremony. Erin placed the peace lamp/Light of Christ in the center of our circle and invited each of us to light a tea candle from it on behalf of the person to our left, with the group joining in to say, for example, "May Sally's light shine." Each person was named, as well as those who were out of town celebrating Thanksgiving with their families. We had time to sit with the Light, noticing the way the tea candle flames all leaned in towards the lamp, and the way that the lamp flame danced in response.
What Assembly North will become is still unknown (a 2nd Assembly campus? a house church? a new congregation?). It is good to be part of that unfolding, just as it was good to be with the whole Assembly yesterday, joining in with song and feast. Here, too, what we will become is still unknown, as we continue the journey together. But both are places of light and welcome, and the Holy Spirit blows in our midst, bringing comfort and challenge and transformation -- a fitting awareness to carry into this Advent season, as we wait and we watch.
I began this practice of looking for the spark of light each day and then posting photos just over a year ago. We were traveling when the anniversary came round, so this is a belated noting of that marker.
I continue to look for the spark of light or delight in each day, but I seem to have settled into a pattern of heading out for a longer session with my camera about once a week and then drawing on that resource to create a couple posts for the week.
The cycle of seasons has now come full circle. Once again we are moving into the colder time of year here in North America, which may mean I'll occasionally do my search for light by looking back through the trove of photos that I've gathered this past year, rather than venturing outdoors. On the other hand, even the coldest winter has some warmer days. We'll just have to see what happens.
And for today, commemorating the past year and its seasons, I've gone back to that trove, selecting images from this past year into a slideshow to share here.
We had our first frost the night before last, so yesterday we woke to a frost covered yard. The rest of the day was clear and sunny, so mid-afternoon I wandered over to the prairie plantings on campus to see how things were doing. There is quite a mix of flowers gone to seed and flowers still opening blooms.
I was examining some seed heads when two grade school children from a nearby house waded through the plantings to see what I was doing. They were friendly and curious, so we talked about the prairie plants for awhile before the brother headed back to their swing set.
His sister stayed and watched. I was trying to get a photo of a big brown grasshopper, but it kept leaping away. She tried to catch it for me and told me about finding little green grasshoppers in the field earlier. I told her that this one might be one of those -- that they get bigger and browner as they get older.
She nodded and thought about the way things change color as they get older. "Like grandmas!" she said, looking at my white hair with a big smile. "Like grandmas," I agreed, though I'm not one yet.
Grandmas and grasshoppers and all things grow and change. This past week we slipped from summer into autumn, and the trees are beginning to turn vibrant colors, and the smaller plants are turning brown. Or white, like grandmas. Either way, there is an abundance of seeds, so the cycle of growth and change will continue.
To everything .....turn, turn, turn......
There is a season.....turn, turn, turn....
And a time to every purpose, under heaven.
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.
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.
Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic, uses a metaphor of the silkworm for talking about the soul's journey toward union with God:
You must have already heard about His marvels manifested in the way silk originates, for only He could have invented something like that. . . .The worms nourish themselves on mulberry leaves until, having grown to full size, they settle on some twigs. There with their little mouths they themselves go about spinning the silk and making some very thick little cocoons in which they enclose themselves. The silkworm, which is fat and ugly, then dies, and a little white butterfly, which is very pretty, comes forth from the cocoon. Now if this were not seen but recounted to us as having happened in other times, who would believe it? . . .Teresa, The Interior Castle
She goes on to equate the silkworm with the soul coming to life, and the cocoon time with resting in prayer in Christ.
Now, then, let's see what this silkworm does, for that's the reason I've said everything else. When the soul is, in this prayer, truly dead to the world, a little white butterfly comes forth. Oh, greatness of God! How transformed the soul is when it comes out of this prayer after having been placed within the greatness of God and so closely joined with Him for a little while...Teresa, The Interior Castle
This is a season for butterflies and moths of all colors, all of whom have gone through their own time of transformation.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"