Repairing the World


My parents are part of a group of people in their retirement community who are doing their part to save the monarch butterflies. A couple years ago, they asked us to bring them some milkweed pods from the farm, and they planted them in their garden. Now, two years later, their back patio is lined with a wall of milkweed plants as tall as I am, and the monarchs have thoroughly colonized it. They’ve begun bringing the caterpillars inside and raising them in mesh cages. “Cats” is the term some people on their email list use, as in “I don’t have enough cages to house both the big cats and the tiny 1/4″ cats. Could someone take my big cats off my hands?” I’ve started to think of them as the Monarch Posse.

Today while several of us were eating lunch at their house, we were twice interrupted by the miracle of a cat casting its skin and becoming a chrysalis (the plural is chrysalides, we discovered). Young cats go through five growth stages between egg and pupal phases, molting between each phase. When a 5th instar-phase cat is ready to pupate, it climbs onto a branch and hangs upside-down in the shape of a J. After a short while in this position, it begins to rhythmically pulsate–it looked to me like labor. The J lengthens out, and the skin at the back of the head cracks open, revealing the jade green casing of the chrysalis. If this is labor, the cat is giving birth to itself as it pushes itself out of itself, jigging and wriggling until the skin has shriveled up around its “ankle,” where it gives one last emphatic twist of its body and casts off the skin. Another fifteen minutes and the top of the chrysalis (what was once the back-end half of the cat) has shrunken into the cap-like top of the chrysalis. The notion seems utterly preposterous that in a few days’ time, a winged creature three times the size of that gold-flecked jade emerald will emerge from within the gem. Still, it’s only a little more preposterous than the miracle you’ve just watched, of this short, squat stone emerging from the long and agile body of the caterpillar.

The pupa stage of the monarch lasts 8-15 days, and as I was pondering these little upside-down folks hanging from their cage roofs today, I had a vision of the god Odin, who sought the secret of the runes in ancient days. He experienced a magical ordeal to receive the runes, which were destined to become a human alphabet, holding the meanings of our words and thoughts–he hung upside-down from the World Tree for nine windy days and nine windy nights, and on the final day, he looked below him, and there were the runes. He fell from the tree, gathered them up, and gained great wisdom.

Like Odin, the creature that is caterpillar/pupa/butterfly hangs between worlds, upside-down, for something like nine days, and in the process receives the transformational wisdom of the truth of itself.

Today while we were talking about what this group of thirty or more Protectors of the Monarchs is doing, my father mentioned an idea he’s learned from reading about Judaism: tikkun olam, repairing the world. They take their work very seriously, this small and tender act of raising tiny caterpillars safe from predators and accidents and then releasing them to the winds. They’re doing their part to repair the world, boosting the chances that their grandchildren will be able to show their own children the miracle of transformation.

Gratitude List:
1. The miracle of transformation. In monarchs. In children. In worlds.
2. People who show tenderness for all living things.
3. Re-programming. Ellis bought a CD set on Time Management at the Bookworm Frolic, and we started listening together. A lot of the testimonial stuff at the beginning seemed like bunkus and snake oil, but the basic principles are pretty standard: affirmations, visualization, behaving “as if,” modeling your behavior after someone who is successful in the area, and then processing how you would teach or pass it on. We’re going to be each other’s allies and begin to affirm to ourselves and each other that we use time wisely, and that we get our work done.
4. A couple good days of good exercise.
5. Words. Runes. Alphabets. Books.

May we walk in Beauty!

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