The kids came rushing into the kitchen one day this summer saying, “Mom, you have to come and see the caterpiller!”
This is not music to a gardener’s ears. Caterpillars are known to chew through leaves and can even demolish an entire plant in a single day. Tent caterpillars with their huge nests in tree branches are creepy. Green hornworms destroy tomato plants. Cutworms can take out an entire crop of seedlings ovenight and cabbage worms, as you would imagine, eat the leaves of cabbage plants.
So, although my children were ecstatic, I was leary. What colour is it, I asked? All kinds of colours, they replied. Huh? Were they sure it was a caterpillar?
When I finally laid eyes on it, I understood their excitement. This was no tiny cutworm. It was indeed a big, fat, brightly coloured creature worthy of some excitement. It was familiar, too, but we couldn’t quite figure out why. We did a quick internet search and discovered the exciting news: we had our very own black swallow tail caterpillar!
Aside from taking a million photographs of it, we let it be. We felt honoured that this precious creature would call our yard home, even if just for a little while. We kept an eye on it for a day or two and then poof! He was gone.
Further reading informed me that black swallowtail caterpillars like to eat carrots, parsley, dill, and a whole host of weeds like Queen Anne’s Lace. Hmmm. They like sunny places with weeds and flowers, says one nature web site, and they can be found not only in gardens, but in vacant lots, old fields and pastures. What? My yard is no overgrown vacant lot! Although I suppose I did let the parsley run to seed. And I decided to leave the Queen Anne’s lace that other people usually label as a weed because I thought it looked pretty…
I have thought about our caterpillar friend lately as I returned to work. We haven’t seen him, but we know that he will have changed since we saw him last. He’ll have beautiful black wings with yellow spots and will be winging his way around the neighbourhood, no longer be earth bound or confined to the weedy corners of my garden. I can just picture his freedom in my mind’s eye!
It was a pleasure to welcome such a beautiful guest to my garden. More than that, it was a tremendous honour play even a small role in a tale of transformation. In a world full of home makeover shows and people trying to ‘recreate’ themselves in mid-life I know how rare genuine and lasting change can be. To be able to help one of God’s creature achieve that transformation was life-affirming. And I had a front row seat to remind me that it really is possible.
Our black swallowtale may have revealed my sorry lack of weeding, but I don’t care. Being a witness to transformation was worth it.