Spring Musings 1.6

Early in the spring, some neighbors sold their lovely house with Zen gardens surrounding it.  John has meditated on a cedar bench he hewed 30 years ago, in that back yard.  The garden was calm and had a Japanese feel to it, with the various Buddha and St. Francis statues scattered around the moss and flagstone ground and miniature Japanese maples and dwarf pines on the sides, enclosed by a bamboo fence.  So, of course, we went to their final garage sale.  And we came home with Buddha and St. Francis and the cedar meditating bench.  St. Francis is installed near the patio and the Aunt Dee wisteria, and Susan moved Buddha to her four vegetable gardens, where he sits on a meditating bench. Currently, Buddha has his back to the one garden, a forest full of volunteer dill,but given what else is growing in those herbs, I believe Buddha blessed herb patch.

It’s a butterfly nursery in the dill!  Last spring we discovered yellow and black caterpillars on the dill in the backyard vegetables and  the Queen Anne’s Lace that grows wild in my prairie patch in the front berm area.  These are strong smelling plants that probably lend their robust taste and smell to the larvae to protect them from predators.  I’ve always liked completing puzzles, particularly ones that have something hidden to find in a picture, a sort of “Where’s Waldo.”  Searching for caterpillars in a copse of dill is that same sort of challenge.  Well camouflaged throughout their four stages or instars of development from egg to cocoon taking 10 – 30 days, they are very easy to overlook.  In Michigan, we get two generations per summer and in the South, there are at least three generations.

Dill is feathery, light green, sometimes yellow lower down.  It has thicker parts of the stem where a branch is budding.  Mock orange petals sometimes sit on the tops of the dill, among other detritus of maple helicopters. The first instar mimics bird droppings and are about 1/4″ long.  After careful searching, I found two of each of these first two instars these today on our feathery dill, full of dizzying, dappled sunlight.   

1st Instar            Eastern Black Swallowtail                                      2nd Instar

The later instars are a brindled yellow and black, and finally as they grow bigger, green joins the yellow and black.  I counted eight of these today.

3rd Instar

4th Instar

Last week, we began searching for any and all caterpillars after picking some dill for garnish.  We never did get around to using that dill, and after a couple of days on the counter sitting in a glass of water, Susan noticed the tiny black and white instar.  Then two, then three.  We replaced them in the garden, below, and now they are biggies!  I’m glad we didn’t eat the dill with Lord knows how many eggs aboard.  I guess that particular vegetable garden will have to wait to become tomatoes or squash or kale this season.

Last year Susan was lucky enough to find a cocoon right after it was spun and was still wet.  She almost wiped it off the bean stake, but caught herself in time.  We watched it go from green, to green with yellow dots, and finally the color darkened.  The next time I checked, about 2 weeks later, it was empty.

Cocoon hours before butterfly emerges

Fresh cocoon

Our yard is dedicated to butterflies, birds and bees, with an ever changing array of flowers blooming.  It is a meditative place of peace where I can spend endless hours puttering or just sitting, soaking in the symphony of birdcalls and the lush array of colorful flora surrounding me.  And the butterflies stay around.  Already I have seen one flitting from one butterfly bush to the next pincushion flower (Scabiosa).

Eastern Black Swallowtail on butterfly bush  and pincushion flower, a fav!

Butterflies are such improbably light and fragile creatures that are a symbol of hope and of the process of change for me.  They are the symbol of the resurrection and of what happens when life challenges us to keep growing and changing.  How could a bird-dropping mimic first instar ever imagine becoming that swollen yellow, green and black striped caterpillar?  And that large caterpillar, its crawling on dill and chewing leaves, relying on its colors and patterns, noxious smell and taste to avoid a whole host of faster moving threats.  How could it ever imagine being a gorgeous winged being, flying from flower to flower to drink nectar?  But that’s how change happens.  You have to shed your old skin from time to time, graduate from one instar to the next, allowing nature to keep morphing you into who you are, who you will be.
I had to laugh at a client who walked into my office one day and abruptly noticed the two butterfly cushions on the couch:  One painted, one needlepointed.  She looked up and saw a butterfly coaster, and then another on the coffee table.  One glance at the wall and there were six framed photographs of the life cycle of a monarch.  After coming into this office for six weeks, grieving the all encompassing and untimely loss of a lover, she never noticed any of the butterflies filling my room.  Not one! Now, they revealed their presence:  The day before she realized that her lover’s initials were JMB, or in script:   JMB, a butterfly.  Suddenly, she was no longer alone.  Her love was right there with her, throughout the room, and the whole world.

Comments are closed.