Tag Archives: Monarch butterflies

Stay upside down, and be silent!

DIVAN

I’m a slave of the moon. Speak only moon to me.
Speak of candles and of sweetness or don’t speak at all.
Speak of gains not losses, and if
you don’t know how, never mind. Say nothing.
I went crazy last night. Love saw me and said,
“I’m here. Don’t shout! Don’t tear your clothes! Be still!”
I said, “Oh, love. It’s not that I fear. It’s something more!”
“That something more is no more. Don’t say a word!
I’m going to whisper secrets in your ear.
Just nod your head and say nothing.
A moon, being made of soul, appeared on the path of love.
Ah, how delicious it is, a journey on the heart’s path! Don’t speak!”
I said, “Oh, my heart, what moon is this?” Love pointed and said,
“This one’s not right for you. Pass by in silence!”
I said, “Could this be an angel’s face? Could it be human?”
“It’s neither human nor angel. Hush!”
I said, “What is it? Tell me! You’ve turned me upside down!”
“Stay upside down, and be silent!”
You’re seated in this house filled with images and illusions.
Get up! Don’t say a word! Just pack your bags and leave!
I said, “Oh, my love. Be like a father to me.
Isn’t this the face of God?”
“It is. But by your father’s soul,
Hush! Be silent! Don’t say a word!”

-Rumi
1207-1273
translated by J.W. Clinton

For a couple of weeks now I’ve been trying to put into words how it was for me, releasing Monarch butterflies who had emerged from their chrysalises two or three hours before. It was the most exciting thing yet to happen in my garden, that’s for sure. I had an rush of adrenaline stretching over the several days it took for all four caterpillars to finish their metamorphosis into creatures exquisite and huge. They were huge by comparison with the tiny pods from which they’d unpacked themselves, and their delicate design and bold colors were revealed in all their glory by being seen close-up and still in their mesh cage, waiting for their wings to dry.

I watched them as they hung and dried. When the time was right, I followed the Monarch website instructions: Move your finger toward the head of the butterfly, and it will climb on. Lift it out… I got a phone video with one hand while carrying the first Monarch to a flower I chose because it was both a known Monarch favorite nectar source, and purple to contrast with the insect’s colors.

That one was fully dry and not hungry yet; it wouldn’t step off my hand onto the blossom, but as soon as a breeze came by, it flew. I looked down and the second butterfly was climbing out of the cage and fluttering away. As one friend said, “It’s like being present at a moment of creation.” Indeed. And that was a little much to take, the reason for my intense feelings, and why this Rumi poem resonates with me. An insect, a moon, a grain of sand… anything might bring you there.

The next chrysalis wasn’t due to open until the afternoon; I deadheaded coneflowers nearby and met with this mantis, who I think was probably the same one I had encountered a few days before. I was friendly and he looked at me; I took his picture in full daylight. Then my neighbor stopped her car in the street and said out the window, “Isn’t it a little hot to be working out here?” I checked the thermometer and it was 93°; okay, I will go indoors for a while. Once in the house, I felt something on my head, and brushed it off… the mantis! Hey, fella, I know you like me, but you belong outside… So I gently carried him out, with my bare hands this time, being so comfortable/familiar with the creature. 🙂

The third butterfly’s wings were still a little damp when I released it in the afternoon; that same neighbor had come over for a cool drink in the cooler indoors, and she stayed to watch. And before the Monarch was dry enough to fly far, the little girl next door was able to come and get close to the action. I was really happy that it worked out for me to share at least a little bit of this wildlife event with other humans.

Following Rumi’s imagery, on my path in just one week’s time I have had encounters with 1) the moon and the mantis,  2) newborn butterflies walking on my hands and 3) a mantis who likes me. Somewhere inside I was going crazy and shouting, and also trying to listen to that voice saying, Hush!

This whole experience certainly jolted me out of my waiting doldrums. A word from another friend helped calm me down: She told me that mantises eat butterflies, and I laughed as I guessed the mantis “mind” as he looked so friendly-like at me: This large shape carries the scent of those juicy Monarchs I like, but I don’t see how to get my mouth around it….

At least one of the butterflies hung around the garden for a few days, giving me more opportunities for picture-taking, and to say a more leisurely good-bye. These were the babies I’d collected as eggs and raised for more than a month; I’d invested a lot of time in collecting milkweed leaves for them and cleaning their cage. It seems now a small price for the reward, though I could wish my responses were more like quiet joy and not so emotionally exhausting.

More recently, a building inspector was here and needed to write a note for the contractor, so I invited her to sit at my kitchen table, from which she immediately saw my garden and calmly gushed over it. I told her about the joy my garden gives to me, and about the Monarchs, too. She said, “It’s like the first garden….” Well, yes. Isn’t this the face of God?

Annus est Christus.

Much earth and earthiness, fruitfulness, and aromas from it all, here on September 1st. I have been gardening a lot, soaking up the heat, collecting seeds, and ripping out vegetables that are done in by “pests,” those other hungry creatures who enjoy my garden. In a few days, God willing, my Monarchs will emerge from their delicate green chrysalises. In the meantime, other insects have been patiently posing for me.

I keep buying plants, and sticking them in the ground or in pots. Lots of perennials that will go dormant in a few months, but then they will be beautiful in the spring. I’m planning for another year in the garden, but who knows what tomorrow might bring?

This nursery in the country that I rarely visit, I managed to drive to yesterday; they specialize in edible perennials and pollinator plants. I bought five unusual plants, which I’ll have to tell about in a separate post. One lovely thing  I saw but didn’t buy was this passion flower that has decided to grow all over the mesh ceiling of the nursery.

In my own space, Alejandro spent a couple of hours trimming the lamb’s ears back to the steel edging of the paths. If we let it, it would grow all the way across the path, living a dry existence in the bark mulch, waiting for winter rains. I like to have my helper come at a time when I also can be working in my garden, and for some reason we seem to get more than double the work done. The other day he told me that my plum trees seem very likely to bear next year, judging from all the fruit spurs on them. 🙂

That mantis praying makes me want to tell you that it’s the beginning of the church year! Why, you may ask, does it start now? Why, because of Rosh Hashanah! I had been thinking a lot about this special day in preparation for teaching 7th-10th graders this morning, and then in today’s homily we were given a heavenly vision of this church calendar year and its cycles within cycles, with Christ at the center.

One book I used to prepare my lesson is The Year of Grace of the Lord by A Monk of the Eastern Church. He says, “The liturgical year forms Christ in us, from his birth to the full stature of the perfect man. According to a medieval Latin saying, the liturgical year is Christ himself, annus est Christus.”

Our homilist taught us about how we humans, along with angels, were made to live in a created eternity, something different from the unchanging, eternal nature that characterizes the Holy Trinity. But since the fall of mankind into sin, we find ourselves in a linear, world time, a fallen time that carries death in it; we are born, grow old, and die.

But we don’t have to live there exclusively; in the Church Christ gives us Himself by many means, including the daily, weekly and yearly cycles of prayers and hymn-filled services, feasts and saints’ days. The calendar brings the heavenly realm down and puts it into fallen time, where it is possible for us to enter in and live. We often get a taste of this kind of life at Pascha, but it is happening all the time.

I love the church calendar, and have always reckoned it a great gift — that is, since I found the Orthodox Church. It was August twenty years ago that I was invited to a women’s retreat at a monastery, and the brief immersion into the daily, weekly and festal cycles of worship — eleven services! — made me feel that I’d found my true home. Here was a way to live with Christ!

It’s more helpful to think of the church calendar not as the paper type with boxes for each day, but as circles and cycles and rhythms, some following the cycles of the sun or the moon, some celebrations fixed on the linear calendar and some moving with the changes of the earthly seasons. Jesus Christ entered our linear time, where He lived through 33 years of Jewish festal seasons; through the church calendar we can follow Him through His life, death, Resurrection, and the birth of His Church, and use it all to unite ourselves to Him day by day. 

I think August and September might be my favorite months of the year. We’ve had other traditional, seasonal events, like barbecues at church – yum! Green beans from my garden slathered with pesto from my garden, and Gravenstein apples, harbingers of fall. September is the month that I love most to go to my cabin in the mountains, but this year is full in ways that prevent that. It’s really a year of preparation of my house, so that I can, if possible, live here for a long time to come, and continue to make it a hospitable place for my family and others whom the Lord brings.

“We can only see a short distance ahead,
but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”
~ Alan Turing

A discipline in pleasure.

I’m in a good mood, because I cleared the driveway of weeds this morning, and brought sunflowers into the house. My foot feels all better, which had been slightly gimpy merely from wearing sandals instead of boots while gardening last week.

The Monarch caterpillars are thriving on giant leaves of the showy milkweed that I bring to them in their mesh cage almost every day. If they had hatched out on the spindly narrowleaf variety where Mama Monarch had laid the eggs, they’d have run out of food fast. I bought a new tropical milkweed plant when I went shopping for begonias last Sunday, but they don’t seem to care for its leaves. (At the bottom of the page is a milkweed I encountered in the mountains some years ago.)

I’ve been too busy to write good sentences about All The Things. I am trying hard to learn to say NO to myself sometimes: “Remember, Dearest Self, you can’t do ALL the things ALL of the time!” Finally after four months, in the middle of which we think the city lost my application, we got the building permit for my remodeling project that I’ve been preparing for over the last year. It’s taking hours and hours to choose paint and cabinets and faucets and mirrors, and more time to watch caterpillars munch, so naturally there have been fewer hours with which to read, write, and cook.

I don’t know how to apply the principle that wise GKC is telling us about in this quote that I thought was simply lovely when I put it in a draft a while back. The word austerity doesn’t seem to fit with the way I behave, though pleasure and gratitude are the world I live in. I’d like to know what you all think about his twist on these qualities of our existence.

 

 

Purification and austerity are even more necessary for the appreciation of life and laughter than for anything else. To let no bird fly past unnoticed, to spell patiently the stones and weeds, to have in the mind a storehouse of sunsets, requires a discipline in pleasure, and an education in gratitude.

-G.K. Chesterton — Twelve Types (1903)

 

 

Laddie and the cats.

People who try to help out the butterflies by “raising” them in a protected location call the caterpillars cats. It took me a while to get used to this when I would browse the extensive Monarch Butterfly Garden website. After my experience last fall of losing the one caterpillar that I know hatched out on one of my milkweed plants, I had thought that if I found another this year, I’d try to feed it indoors.

But why not collect the eggs and protect even them from the beginning? The website tells you how to do that, too, and I did. Again, the Monarchs seem to prefer the Narrowleaf Milkweed; I found most, if not all, of the white oval eggs on those narrow leaves that had been ravaged by aphids. I cut pieces of leaf with eggs stuck on them and let them incubate in a plastic storage container. (I did remove the aphid that can be seen in the picture.) The first ones hatched in about four days, just about the time that my grandson Laddie arrived with his father from Colorado.

We had to use a magnifying glass to be able to see the caterpillars at first. Once I thought they had all died, because they were so small it was hard to see that they had any color, or that they were chewing. But within a couple of days they were big enough to see without the glass; by that time I had moved them into a mesh cage I’d hastily ordered, and I arranged a stem from the showy milkweed in a bowl with a florist’s frog so that the leaves I was feeding them wouldn’t dry out so fast. From the first I encouraged them to leave the narrow half-dead leaves and move on to the fat and nutritious ones I brought in.

How do you encourage a teensy caterpillar? I carefully laid each drying leaf upside down on a fresh leaf, and the next morning they were making holes in the showy milkweed leaves. Well, two or three of them were. I haven’t been able to keep track of these microscopic specimens and it appears that most of them didn’t make it. Even now, I think the active ones are mostly hidden on the undersides of the leaves, but if I look hard I can see a head on the edge of a ragged hole and a mouth making the hole bigger.

I will feel lucky if one or more of them gets to the stage where it spins a chrysalis. That almost happened with two other caterpillars I found on my Italian parsley. They didn’t look like Monarch cats, and I checked online to find that they weren’t the other butterfly I see around here, Painted Lady. I put them in a jar with more parsley and one of them did attach to a thick parsley stem I put in there for that purpose, but then he dried up. The other one kept trying out one or another place to hang, but he eventually lay on the bottom in the dead bug position. So.

Nearly invisible caterpillars aren’t very exciting to a five-year-old, so Laddie didn’t pay too much attention to the lives of insects; Soldier and Laddie and I, and some other friends and in-laws had many kinds of fun over a long weekend. They helped me pick beans, fix a toilet, wash the dirt and spiderwebs off my collection of outdoor trucks, and replace a taillight on my car. Bowling and hiking didn’t get photographed.

Meanwhile more caterpillars were busy in the garden; a very few newly-hatched green ones were sticking their heads out of beans, and one was found on a basil leaf — but Soldier and I studied the bean leaves a long time trying hard to discover what is turning many into skeletons. Eventually I saw one cucumber beetle, and one tiny insect I’d never seen before.

The bean crop is not affected so far; my second picking was 8 1/2 pounds, much of which I gave to neighbors. When Soldier and Laddie arrived, I was able to feed them quite a bit: first, steamed green beans slathered with basil pesto; then Turkish Green Beans. Laddie eats like a teenager, and his father said all the boys are like that. He had three helpings of everything, breakfast and dinner. I made a peach cobbler for them, too.

Maybe some of you recognized the parsley-eating caterpillar; finally tonight I caught my breath and looked it up online, to find that it is the caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail, a butterfly I don’t think I’ve ever seen. What do you know, they eat umbellifers! I hope that more than two of that butterfly’s cats were there in the vegetable box, and are now in the chrysalis stage. I’ll hope to see one next year.