The butterflies appear with the back-to-school season – or more correctly stated, the caterpillars appear. They aren’t ready to be butterflies yet, but they have everything inside of them for the amazing transformation about to happen before our eyes. It seems fast and slow at the same time.
First, they eat and eat and eat, like the famous character in one of our favorite kids’ books, these catpillars eat so much that they grow overnight, and one of our teachers tells us that if a human grew at that rate, they would be the size of a school bus in 14 days.
We collect milkweed to keep them full, stacking leaves in their containers like lunch notes to get through those first days of school.
Just after school starts, the caterpillars we’ve collected are ready to shut their skin. They climb as high as they can in the bug boxes, attached themselves to the lid and make a chrysalis – the same color as the last of the summer leaves. It’s a chrysalis, not a cocoon, because the monarch caterpiller doesn’t spin a shell. It sheds it’s outer layer of skin to make the protective covering. Much like a four-year old, it’s grown so fast that it no longer fits in the same form. There’s no other option but to completely transform as it grows up.
It this case it takes 10 days of patience. We all know there’s something happening on the inside, but it’s impossible to see until the monarch is ready to emerge.
The butterflies emerge cautious and stiff, and on the first day they aren’t quite ready to fly. They prefer to watch from a safe distance, hanging on a leaf, still seemingly needing time to rest. Just like you, they need a nap, then they’ll have the energy for a migration that is mysterious and magical. In the lifespan of this generation, they’ll journey across several states and seasons, and somehow still find their way home.
When the butterfly finally decides to let go they soar first above our head as if to say goodbye, then higher still into the clouds. You swear the one that you took to school to let go came to back to me to report back it was OK and well taken care of. Just like a note at the end of the day – it ate some of it’s food, took a nap and went home.
As a butterfly, the monarch will feast on nectar. No longer stuffing itself with meaty milkweed leaves, it’s diet is pure sugar water. Sounds like the teenage years to me.