For years my friend Mary has been finding monarch caterpillars and bringing them indoors to raise and then set free. Her enthusiasm is catching, and so for years when the milkweed came up, I would search for monarch eggs or caterpillars, to no avail.
Daddy-long-legs, as in the picture above, yes. Red bugs, yes. Holes eaten in the leaves, yes. But no trace of monarch caterpillars for years and years, until finally, one fall, on a young and tender milkweed shoot sprouting in the middle of our yard, I finally spotted a teensy-tiny caterpillar and a couple of eggs.
We brought them into the porch and kept them supplied with milkweed, watching with fascination the cycle of egg to caterpillar, through the five instars -- skin-shedding molts, where the caterpillar stays pretty much the same except for getting bigger and bigger -- and then the creation of the chrysalis, and finally the hatching.
The picture below is from the fall of 2009 and shows two chrysalis hanging from the jar lid that we had been keeping the caterpillars in. One still looks like jade jewelry, the other has just hatched and the butterfly is resting and strengthening its wings.
That was three years ago, however, and since then I have searched milkweed plants and again had no luck finding monarchs.
That's why the discoveries this past week were exciting. First, up at the Hermitage, I found caterpillars on three different milkweed plants. The Hermitage is the only other place I've ever successfully spotted a monarch caterpillar. Two years ago when I was there for the Opening to Grace retreat, I saw one munching away as I neared the end of walking the labyrinth there. Then during this year's retreat, I saw several, including the one below.
Then last week, as John and I took an evening walk along the millrace, I stopped to take some photos of the milkweed blossoms, just beginning to open.
And lo and behold, there was a monarch caterpillar chowing down, large as life and twice as natural. And then, on our way back, from the other side of the path, I spotted a second one. We left them there, taking only the photo along home. Since then, I've continued to check the milkweed around our house. I've seen monarch butterflies, but so far, no eggs or caterpillars. I'll keep looking.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"