“Do not forget that all change is good,” or, why I didn’t clean motel rooms that day

by Rachel Creager Ireland

“When butterfly shows up, make note of the most important issues confronting you at this moment. This is probably why butterfly has shown up. What stage of change are you at in regard to them? To determine that, you may have to examine and determine what you wish the outcome to be, and how best to accomplish it. . . . Do not forget that all change is good.” –Ted Andrews

It was one of those late August days, down to the last precious few before school and the quotidian jail of the daily schedule set in. This time of year I always wonder why I’m not homeschooling. I fear that any creativity and inquisitiveness in my children will be gradually squelched by the endless worksheets and pressure to follow instructions quickly, before the next worksheet is presented. Yesterday we were unloading stuff from the car and going into the house when my 6-year-old stopped, and wouldn’t move closer to the door. “One of those wasps, the orange ones.”

“The really bright orange-red one, or the orangey brown?”

“Bright.”

“Is it on the ground, or in the air?”

“On the ground.”

These questions are relevant because I know of two orange wasps around here. One is orange-ish and flies; that’s the digger wasp, which is not aggressive. The bright orange, fuzzy one that looks kind of like a brilliant, oversized ant, is, naturally, known as the red velvet ant. The female is wingless and I’ve warned my kids about her; though I didn’t tell them that the account I read of having been stung by one described the pain as so intense that, said the victim, for about thirty minutes he wanted to die. I just told them to avoid the wasp when they see her. The male flies, and doesn’t sting at all, though it’s said he might try to fake a person out.

Rowan is increasingly afraid of wasps. She’s been stung twice this year, both times completely by surprise. I keep telling her that they won’t bother her if she leaves them alone, but I know as the words come out of my mouth that she has never looked for trouble with waps; I witnessed the second sting. She just pushed away something that flew in her face, and got stung on the hand.

The red velvet ant wasp crawls along the ground at a good pace, so I didn’t expect anything to be on the sidewalk when we got there. But then she said, “There it is!” while trying to hide behind me.

There was no wasp there; just a struggling little pearl crescent butterfly, Phyciodes tharos. Really, it looked nothing like a wasp. Strangely, its wings were spread and resting on the concrete. “I think it’s dying,” I said. Then I gently picked it up. It let me; and made its way to the underside of my finger, where its limp wings hung together toward the ground. It hung there, occasionally moving its wings slightly. “It’s not dying, it just came out of its chrysalis,” I realized. I explained to the kids, “When they first come out of the chrysalis, their wings are wet and soft. They can’t fly right away, they have to wait, and kind of pump the fluid out of the wings. It’s a very vulnerable time for them. If they fall down, their wings might get crunched up and they won’t ever be able to fly.” Watching it move the unwieldy wings, I imagined what it must be like to undergo such a transformation. “Remember how I was telling you how caterpillars have to eat so much? What if you were really, really hungry, you ate and ate and ate, then you took a long nap, and when you woke up you had giant wings!” Surely our imaginations could never encompass the shock and mystery of such an experience. In my mind, I pictured my daughter waking up in bed with sticky, wrinkly appendages unfolding from her back.

I held it for a while; the kids each took a turn letting it dangle from their fingers; then we moved it to a twig on a tree nearby. By this time, the creature’s wings were firm enough that it could hold them up. We went inside the house and ate lunch, and when I came back later, it was gone.

What does my daughter need? Somebody to make sure she’s safe as her wings unfold; somebody to help her find a place from which to launch into flight. Then, she needs to be let go.

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