Fly Like A Butterfly
I recently had the joy of observing the life cycle of monarch butterflies over two weeks when I visited my parents. Of course, the beauty and majesty of the monarch butterfly is hard to ignore and that is what first caught my eye. The bright bold colors of its orange wings with black trim and white polka dots called my attention and I couldn’t help but follow its flight, at first seemingly random but then with closer observation, I noticed there was a ritual and watched as the Monarch danced happily around the milkweed flowers, back and forth but always coming back.
I was soon curious about the milkweed—the red, orange, and yellow colors of its small flowers, reaching out on a long tall stem, calling out to the Monarch. On the stems were caterpillars, beautiful creatures, no more than an inch and a half long, wearing yellow, black, and white stripes. They seemed camouflaged at first but once I spotted one of them, I started to see more. There they were, five of them, on separate milkweeds, methodically chewing on the leaves until they exhausted the supply and were satisfied enough to become a chrysalis. (Upon writing this, I learned that a chrysalis is a hard protein shell of butterflies while a cocoon is a silk structure spun by moths.) Each morning, I was reassured when I saw droppings under where the caterpillars were and I watched the milkweed leaves disappear as the caterpillars grew fatter.
I searched around the garden for chrysalises and spotted three of them. Two were close to the ground, hanging under the protection of a broad leaf. The other was higher up on a lone stem, also under a leaf. I wondered how the caterpillars decided where to hang and dwelled on the dexterity of it but every day, I checked in on them, hoping to catch a butterfly emerging.
One day, as I watched the Monarch land on a milkweed, I noticed it was doing something with its abdomen and realized it was laying eggs! I was excited and honored to be able to see first-hand something so intimate. As it flew from stem to leaf to leaf, I watched it lay a total of ten eggs, appearing as small white pimple-like dots, easily going unnoticed if I hadn’t seen the butterfly in action.
I never did get to see the eggs hatch or the butterflies emerge from the chrysalises as the temperatures went below freezing for a couple nights in a row. The milkweed plants didn’t survive the frost and neither did the caterpillars nor the chrysalises. My heart wept for them as I felt their loss so deeply. I hadn’t realized how attached I’d become to them over just two weeks, reminding me of how connected and rooted we are to nature and how precarious life can be.
A couple days after I left home, I received a call from my dad saying that he spotted a new chrysalis. Perhaps a caterpillar had survived the frost and this gave me hope. And so continues the cycle of life and death and new beginnings, seemingly part of a bigger Plan.
Given time to connect to other living things up close and personal, I’m amazed by their instinctive nature—how the Monarch knows where to find the milkweed; how it knows where to lay its eggs so that when the caterpillars hatch, they have direct access to food; how the caterpillars find a protected spot to hang and become chrysalises, not to mention the miracle that happens inside the chrysalis to allow the Monarch to emerge. The whole life cycle seems so perfectly designed.
I’d like to think our lives are just as perfect, as we are created in the same image of Nature as are all living beings. Of course, there are things in our human lives that may taint and mar this image but the omniscient intuition is present in all of us. I wonder what the world would be like if we could all tap into this perfect Beauty and let it shine, just like a butterfly.
A very beautiful essay! Thanks.
I’ve always been fascinated by butterflies. When I was in elementary school I made a report on the life of butterflies. They add beauty and fascination to an otherwise plain day. Thank you for sharing ideas about nature. We all have eyes, but do we all see things?
Great question. Hopefully, we can open our eyes and be more aware of “seeing” things.
I don’t know if you remember the hall bathroom of my house in Rancho Cucamonga. I had a butterfly theme, with artwork on the the wall, and embroidered butterflies on the towels. I have always loved butterflies as well, because the remind me of the cycle of life and renewal. I truly enjoyed reading your post. I’m sure it was wonderful to visit your parents, too.
Thank you for sharing!
A child’s curiosity, a scientists eye and a touch of the poet.