Last week I took my camera down to the millrace, part of an on-going attempt to get a photo of multiple turtles sunning themselves on a log in the middle of the race. So far this goal is proving elusive -- even when I'm using a telephoto lens, they seem to sense the attention and slide into the water for safety.
I recorded a couple not-very-interesting views of turtle tails just before they vanished beneath the duckweed and was trotting back to my car, when the late afternoon sunshine and the colors on the nearby plants said, "Hey, what about noticing us?"
So I took a deep breath, slowed down and beginning looking around -- and discovered a large healthy monarch caterpillar on the milkweed right in front of me.
This isn't the first monarch I've seen in the wild this summer, but this time I decided to bring it home. I've been reading When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd, where she interweaves her mid-life depression and spiritual journey with the story of a chrysalis that she finds hanging from a dogwood branch one stormy day. As Sue explains, the Greek word for soul is psyche, and the soul/psyche has often been symbolized by a butterfly, since both go through transformations and metamorphosis. The caterpillar struck me as a good companion for that reading.
Here's Sue, describing her encounter with the chrysalis:
I was caught suddenly by a sweep of reverence, by a sensation that made me want to sink to my knees. For somehow I knew that I had stumbled upon an epiphany, a strange gracing of my darkness. I took my forefinger and touched the bottom tip of the tiny brown chrysalis and felt something like light move in me. In that moment God seemed to speak to me about transformation. About the descent and emergence of the soul. About hope. p. 12
I carried the caterpillar home and put it with a stalk of milkweed in a bushel basket on our back porch. For a day it feasted, munching so enthusiastically its antennae quivered. Then for a day it was quiet, resting on a stick. By evening, it was hanging in the familiar J-shape that comes just before the chrysalis stage.
All evening it hung there. We checked just before bed. Still no chrysalis. I checked again, first thing in the morning, and discovered it just finishing the process of shedding the old stripped skin, wiggling around and settling into its new green shape.
So now it is hanging on that twig, resting on my back porch. It takes about two weeks in the chrysalis before the butterfly emerges, I've been told.
Sue describes the months of her time of transformation, elaborating on the role of waiting in the obscurity and darkness of the unknown. Transformation takes time. There's work for us to do, and there is also the work of letting go, and letting God do the transforming work we need.
Making a cocoon and the transformation that goes on inside it involves weaving an environment of prayer, but not the sort of prayer we usually think of. No, this is something mysteriously different. This prayer isn't about talking and doing and thinking. It's about postures. Postures of the spirit. It's turning oneself upside down so that everything is emptied out and God can flow in. It's curling up in the fogged spaces of the listening heart, sinking into solitude, wrapping the soul around some little flame of hope that God has ignited. It's sitting on the window sill of the heart, still and watching.
Such interior postures are themselves the prayers that transform, heal, and yield the answers in our waiting. They're the shapes and contours that turn us into a cocoon. p. 126
And so we wait, and watch.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"