I learned a lot of things in fourth grade. It was the year I was introduced to Laura Ingalls Wilder and the year I became fully acquainted with the darkness that lies in the hearts of nine-year-old girls (not least of all in my own heart, but that is a story for another time, perhaps). It was also the year I learned the life cycle of the monarch butterfly.
Back in the days before the scourge of standardized testing, Mrs. Wentz's fourth grade class learned about the life cycle of the monarch butterfly by tromping out to the field behind the school to gather caterpillars and milkweed leaves. Then we watched and waited while these caterpillars ate and ate and ate and then pupated and then emerged as butterflies which we released back into the same field from which they'd come.
At nine, I was awestruck by the process and at forty-four, I remain so. Over the years, I have occasionally given in to the pull of a certain nostalgic fascination and wandered into a field in search of a caterpillar to bring home.
Every time, I think, "This, this will be the time the system fails." But every time, every single time, it works. The caterpillar eats and eats and eats and then pupates--and I stare at the chrysalis and wonder what's going on in there. What kind of magic? What alchemy does it take to turn that humble caterpillar into a regal butterfly?
Every year, I get a little older. But that? That never gets old.
|The butterfly I grew from scratch this past summer, |
spreading its wings for the first time.
L is for Lepidoptery