The miracle of life struck me early. I think I was about eleven. My brother and I immersed ourselves in science. To us, only science seemed real. It alone could be trusted. We however, yearned for a hands-on experience with science. We discovered bugs. They were all around us. We had moved to a new house that had just been wrung from the wilderness. Through poison (my father) and cleanliness (my mother), we gradually subdued the bugs.
Our semiweekly journeys to the public library were used to enlighten ourselves about bugs. We learned first that bugs were actually called insects and that bugs were only a small part of the total insect realm. We learned that insects came in different “orders” or groups with similar characteristics. We could soon distinguish order Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) from order Homoptera (true bugs).
We learned about butterflies. We discovered that butterflies laid their eggs on specific plants. Cabbage Butterflies laid their eggs on cabbage plants; Monarchs laid their eggs on milkweed. The eggs hatched as caterpillars. All summer, these caterpillars would eat the plants. We read that in the autumn the caterpillars would form chrysalises, and in that dormant state they would survive the winter. As spring arrived with leaf and flower, the sleeping chrysalis would burst with new life—the beautiful butterfly!
Our reading gave us a goal to seek during our wanderings over the fields and pastures that still dotted our new community. We spotted the prize in an overgrown orchard—a milkweed patch! We knew it was milkweed because it was overrun with Monarch caterpillars. We collected some of the caterpillars together with a few milkweed sprigs. We knew that more sprigs would need to be collected all summer. We watched as the caterpillars greedily consumed milkweed. Soon, our caterpillars were hanging from leaves and branches. Their skins were shriveling. They were dying before our eyes! Our scientific experiment had failed. Suddenly, the skin split and a shimmering, green chrysalis was revealed. It sparkled with flecks of gold. Others soon joined this first chrysalis. However, it was not fall. They were too soon! Could we wait until spring to see the butterflies? In a few days, we detected stirrings within one of the chrysalises. The skin of the chrysalis split open. A butterfly with crumpled wings deliberately crawled out. It clung to its burst container as its wings stiffened. Presently, we could detect movement in other chrysalises. Fresh butterflies appeared. Our container was awash in the brilliant orange of the monarch butterfly. We had never witnessed anything so dazzling. It was a miracle! From death came life; from dormancy—action. Some tried to fly in our cramped accommodations. They must be free. We had to release them. We carried our prison outdoors and released our captives. Sadness filled my heart as they floated away on the late-summer breeze. Why couldn’t I keep them? These creatures were mine! I created them; I nurtured them. But how could the miracle I had witnessed belong to anyone?