Four years ago, Doug hopped on the mower to mow an encircling path of protection around the newly sprung patch of milkweed in the hayfield. It’s been protected ever since and new patches have appeared around our house, but we only ever saw a few monarchs or their chrysalises. Sometimes, most times, things take longer than we hope or imagine.
A week ago, I was on the front porch, sipping coffee, telling Doug that the one chrysalis we had discovered (top photo) was empty and watching the butterfly we thought must have emerged from it…then we saw another and another…all of them tentative and fresh. Then we found the one in the second photo.
Last night, when I woke up in the wee hours, I lay in the darkness, picturing the outside of our bedroom wall, just a few inches from my head, bejeweled with almost a dozen already-formed jade-like, gold-dotted chrysalises and a few stripey caterpillars bent like whimsical umbrella handles. We’ve been calling it our Monarch nursery…but that’s not really right, is it? Although somewhere around us the Monarch eggs are hatching into caterpillars (we’ve yet to see that), we are privy to the immature caterpillars undergoing their metamorphosis into adults.
Their transformation is so swift…gorgeous…dramatic. I’ve been using the language of their metamorphosis for years now, in trying to describe the changes of mid-life (not so mid-life for me, I imagine, at 57), but the truth is, these rosehip years are one in a series of chrysalis-times in my life,…tho’ perhaps the longest and deepest? And not born of circumstance or experience, but coming from within. I won’t know ’till much further on.
I looked up the origin of the word chrysalis and it comes from a Greek word meaning gold. Taking that in, I could suddenly see my whole life as a chrysalis…an ever-circling pattern of decomposing and growth…the golden flecks the moments and seasons when I am aware of this soul-work. Tho’ even as I typed that period, I wondered if it was nonsense…we are not insects, after all. But I suppose I am one “whose cast of mind leads me to seek such emblems” (see below)…when I am not simply agog, relieved and rejoicing to be a piece, a part, a scrap of this intricate, opulent, tender existence.
“The people thrown into other cultures go through something of the anguish of the butterfly, whose body must disintegrate and reform more than once in its life cycle. In her novel “Regeneration,” Pat Barker writes of a doctor who “knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.” But the butterfly is so fit an emblem of the human soul that its name in Greek is “psyche,” the word for soul. We have not much language to appreciate this phase of decay, this withdrawal, this era of ending that must precede beginning. Nor of the violence of the metamorphosis, which is often spoken of as though it were as graceful as a flower blooming.”
We are good in the chrysalis.”
“We are all butterflies. Earth is our chrysalis.”