Last summer I was at my friends home and her husband was engaged in a most unusual activity. He was using tweezers and moving small pieces of leaves around a container. I was immediately intrigued. He explained that he had collected monarch eggs and was now diligently caring for them so that they might hatch into the tiniest caterpillar you have ever seen. He would then feed this small caterpillar until it grew bigger and eventually made a chrysalis and then hatched into a monarch.
You can do this in your home?
His wife took me into their bathroom and showed a string of chrysalis hanging, waiting for their day to emerge.
I was hooked. I had to do this at my home. I needed to experience this firsthand.
My friends sent me home with milkweed plants and my journey was underway.
I was successful at releasing 6 monarchs last year. My friends released over 200! They have given me a goal, a lofty one but I was determined to work hard this year to release as many as I could.
So at the start of the season I began to fervently comb my milkweed plants for eggs. The eggs are tiny, they look like the tip of a pinhead.
I started to comb through the leaves multiple times every day, hoping to come across these teeny tiny beauties. The first couple of weeks were uneventful, but then one afternoon as I was pulling out of my driveway I spotted a female scoping out my plants. I jumped out of the car and watched her as she laid the first of many eggs to come.
As I collected those first eggs I started to think about a friend of mine who has infertility issues. I thought about how each one of her eggs is so very precious to her. Each one holds so much promise of what is to come in the future. This friend has lost 6 babies. Each time she calls me I hold my breath waiting to see what news she has, is it good news or sad news. As I lay each leaf into my hands to try and bring forth life, I thought of her and when we met how devastated she was when her first daughter died. I decided in that moment that the sanctity of eggs, human eggs, butterfly eggs, would not be wasted on me, I would fully appreciate the process and be cognoscente of all the ways it can go wrong and your baby doesn’t end up here. It turns out that in the wild only 10% of egg/caterpillars survive and make it to the butterfly stage, like growing a human baby there are many ways this can go south.
So I learned this delicate hobby and fed my caterpillars, watched them grow and waited for the next stage. The chrysalis, the magical moment when the caterpillar winds itself up and transforms before your eyes.
This year I will be tagging my butterflies when I release them. The purpose of this is to see if they make it all the way to Mexico when they migrate in the fall. Each monarch is given a number and it is put into a database. Each monarch becomes a data entry point. When I spoke to my neuro oncologist from Columbia 2 weeks ago he told me that they didn’t have enough data points on me to know exactly what was happening in my brain. They think they know but are not certain. I know it wasn’t his intention but I felt completely dehumanized. I had been riddled down to data entry points.
As I have watched these little insects grow and change I have been thinking about all my moms who have had fertility issues along with my own brain tumor I decided that this year I wanted to name each one. They each deserved to be more than a data entry on a spreadsheet, they all deserved more respect.
The first names that came to mind were those of my friends 6 babies. When we met she had just lost her daughter Juju. So my first butterfly to be released would be Juju, I knew in my heart that this was exactly the right thing to do.
It turns out that Juju hatched early. All of my chrysalis were still bright green and had not started to change color but yesterday morning (the 27th) when I came outside she was sitting in her habitat. I mentioned it to my husband that it was strange that she had hatched so early, she really wasn’t due to be here for at least 4-5 days. He chalked it up to averages and we moved along.
I texted my friend in the afternoon and shared with her my plans, to release butterflies named after all of her babies. She was honored. I am honored to be part of such a special journey with all of my families.
When I told her that the first one had hatched today and I would be releasing it and it’s name would be Juju she texted me back “it’s the 27th… Juju was born on the 27th, it is a sacred day for me”.
I have worked in the world of loss and grief long enough to know one thing. There are way too many coincidences that occur around the loss of loved ones to attribute all of these encounters as “chance”.
The rest of my summer will include lots more feeding, tagging and releasing. It’s a hobby that keeps me busy, keeps me calm and is helping a species on the brink of endangerment.
My hope for everyone who reads this is that you find the thing that brings you joy, makes your heart smile and keeps you going. These are strange times and we all need a little bit of delight.