Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bringing Nature Inside - by Cara

When my son was three years old, his Nursery School ordered live caterpillar larvae that were self-contained with food. The children could observe the caterpillars grow in the classroom, day by day. I was fascinated as well. I had never actually witnessed caterpillars grow, develop into chrysalises, and hatch into beautiful butterflies, so I eagerly went to their mesh “home” every day when I picked my son up from school! This amazing gift of nature intrigued my son and I so much, that when his Preschool class ordered caterpillars the following year, I inquired where to get them so that we could watch this process at home, too.

The next year, when my son was four, I ordered a container of caterpillars to observe in our home. Each container holds five caterpillar larvae. My son sat the container next to his bed at night and we would observe which caterpillars were the BIG FAT caterpillars, as I read, “The Hungry Caterpillar,” by Eric Carle, to him. The first thing my son would do in the morning would be to see how the caterpillars fared through the night. If they were all there and moving around, he was thrilled.

One day, while my son was at Preschool, I noticed that three of the BIG FAT caterpillars had made their way to the top of the container and were hanging upside-down in a “J ” shape. I sat on the floor and gasped as one twirled and twirled! I was certain it would fall, but it didn’t! I kept checking on them throughout the day; their fuzzy bodies became hard encasements, right before my eyes! I went back again and again to marvel at the intricate beauty that nature designed!

When I picked my son up from Preschool, I told him that three of the caterpillars had made their chrysalises! He was ecstatic! His teacher warned not to transfer the paper the chrysalises were on to their mesh “pavilion” until all five caterpillars made their chrysalises. The next couple days, my son and I were glued to the caterpillar container, waiting to see with our own eyes when the last two caterpillars would form their chrysalises!

Two mornings later, it happened!! Before my son went to Preschool, he saw the last two caterpillars hanging upside-down, “J ” shaped! Since he is an early riser and didn’t have to be at Preschool for a few hours, we both sat and slowly watched as the caterpillars lost their “fuzz,” which were replaced by the hard chrysalis shell! My son and I were both in awe! My son was so excited that he wanted to bring the container to school, even though there was an identical one there. I suggested he ask permission from his teacher first. She said that once they all become chrysalises, it is best to carefully transfer them, on the paper, to the “pavilion” and let them be still and quiet until they hatch.

I did as my son’s teacher said. We waited. Everyday we looked for a hatched butterfly, but none were hatching. All of a sudden, exactly a week after they formed their chrysalises, the first three hatched overnight!! Three, fluttering, Painted Lady butterflies were dancing around the pavilion! It was suggested to put a flower with some sugar-water in a shallow bowl inside the pavilion to supply food to the butterflies. I ran outside, in my slippers, and cut a peony flower off one of my bushes, doused it with sugar-water, and put it in the pavilion!

Exactly two days later, the last two Painted Lady butterflies emerged!! We kept them in the pavilion until the upcoming weekend. You could tell that they wanted to be free because they had all managed to flutter to the top of the pavilion, anticipating their freedom.

That weekend was a glorious one! A perfect day to release butterflies! We opened up the pavilion and four fluttered and danced to the heavens! However one didn’t want to leave. We coaxed it. We tried gently blowing on it, but it wouldn’t budge. My son suggested that we keep it inside the house a few more days because, “Maybe it’s a baby.” His compassionate suggestion seemed reasonable, so I prepared to close the pavilion back up. As soon as I started to close the top flap, out came the last butterfly, awkwardly fluttering to the nearest flower on our porch. The butterfly probably was a little immature and couldn’t fly too far or too high. We left it to sit on the flower.

After several hours, this last butterfly finally gained the courage to test its wings and fly away to another spot! It was free to explore the world!

Since then, every year, in April and May, I order two containers of butterflies. A total of ten per month. My son and I make predictions about which container will turn into chrysalises first. Or which one has the BIGGEST, FATTEST caterpillars! We love it! And we never cease to get excited when they turn upside-down and become “J ” shape, nor watch their incredible transformation into beautiful butterflies!

This past weekend, we released ten, very eager butterflies into the world. It was our second batch for the season. We waved goodbye, cheered them on for being so strong, and watched until the very last one disappeared behind a tree.

I love this tradition I have with my son. I know he loves it just the same. I plan on doing it with him for at least several more years to come! I hope he will remember the incredible gift of nature. And I hope he realizes that as much as you want to keep something, or hold on to it a little longer, sometimes you have to set it free. Even if you don’t think it has the ability or the courage, it just may surprise you! I think about my son this way. And sometimes he DOES surprise me with his ability and courage. So I say to him, “Fly, my Little Butterfly! Fly, and be free!”

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