[Originally written May 26, 2006]
I was on my daily run yesterday, enjoying the early-summer evening’s mild breeze, the late sun beating down on my sweat-soaked neck, and as usual, taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells around me. They’ve kind of become story-generating adventures for me, these runs. Maybe its something about the clarity that comes to you when you’re starting your second mile, when you can no longer feel your legs, you have no regard for the snot dripping down your upper lip, and pushing oxygen through your lungs feels like trying to shove a hot dog through a swizzle stick.
The area that I live in (and run around) is surrounded by patches of wooded areas and dense thickets of cattails and tall grass…of course a natural habitat for hanging inch worms, milkweed pods, and caterpillars. The latter of the list is really what got me thinking, as their abundance was almost sci-fi in nature. As I came around mile 1.75 and up towards the area where the parking lots meet the woods, I noticed a tremendous amount of rather large monarch caterpillars, making their pilgrimage across the lot to what must be some sort of caterpillar Mecca.
Now I’m no botanist, or bug-guru, but I know these particular caterpillars are indeed those of the monarch species. When I was in grade school, and when walking three miles home from school by yourself was still relatively safe, there was a patch of milkweed pods just before the Cochran’s house (this was a landmark to anyone who attended G.A. Persell Elementary…). We had learned in school not only what the caterpillars looked like, but that monarch caterpillars thrive on milkweed, and coincidentally (or perhaps not), there was a pretty good population of the beautiful orange and black butterflies by mid-summer. I can still remember the wonder and amazement and total tranquility I would feel when the first cocoons had opened, and the air was filled with flying color. The daytime sky became a field of dreams to these beautiful marvels, and when they slept, the “lightening bugs” took their place as shooting stars against a midnight-blue canvas.
Back to my run. I was trying to maintain my cadence, my rhythm, if you will, of a steady-paced run. (Runners call this “finding their spot”, but since I’m a novice, I’ll just call it my rhythm.) When you’re running for mileage, you really do need to find this “spot”, because once you break the rhythm, you can really fuck up a good run and slow down or shorten your strides. So this focus has become somewhat important to me.
But as I glanced down at my not-yet-battered New Balances, I realized I was coming inches, nay, millimeters, from trampling these tiny, hairy pre-miracles that were the monarch caterpillars. I mean, there were HUNDREDS of them, everywhere I looked. I jumped to one side (again, still maintaining my rhythm), only to have to dodge immediately to the other side…they were out in masses. It was like the Million-Monarch-March in Latham, NY.
If you’ve been following along with my posts, you know that lately I have had many issues – perhaps spiritual, perhaps irrational – with killing anything, specifically insects, without some great justification. The thought of me selfishly pounding away on the blacktop and smashing what will ultimately become one of the most beautiful and unappreciated pieces of natural art just killed me. And at this point, I was wholly engaged in caterpillar defensive guerrilla warfare. What started out being a leisurely run in the tepid twilight had now become an obstacle course of great magnitude, causing me to move a trained soldier, running through a field laced with 2-inch landmines spread about 5 inches apart.
Nimble as a rabbit, cagey like a panther, I managed to dig deep and re-strategize my formerly straight course. I zigzagged through the lot, scaling puddles, leaping over speed bumps, and probably looking like a cracked out madwoman in Nike clothing. Sweat caused my mascara to run down my face, and my hair had turned into a soaked mop of flatworms, but I pressed on, leaping from side to side.
Why all this over some god damn caterpillars?
Because – and this may not be very profound or revolutionary – these creatures, in their fuzzy, spotted simplicity, represent CHANGE. Beautiful, evolutionary change. I needed to protect them, and protect the beautiful change that, I hoped, was symbolic to my near future, and me. CHANGE.
As I’ve alluded to in previous posts, I do fully believe that things that you take particular notice of – whether it be an insect, a street sign, a song on the radio, an ad in the paper – are “sent” to you for a particular reason. The reason may not be clear at the time, but rest assured, there IS a reason, if you’re acknowledging it.
I’ve had a tough couple of weeks, and I’m needing some beautiful change. The kind of change that comes from the story of the Ugly Duckling, the kind of change that comes from a monarch caterpillar. I’m relatively sure no one would have ever thought that an “animal” so simple, covered in dots and hair and slithering on footpaths and tree-limbs, could have much of a purpose, or a future in beauty.
Other than being bird food and what some would call a nuisance, I’m sure there was never a speculation that this creepy-crawly had the potential to wrap itself in silk, hibernate for a handful of days, and emerge as one of the most beautiful sights, in my eyes, known to man. Something that may cause some people fear, anxiety, maybe even disgust, could actually morph itself into a stunning piece of artwork, able to delicately float on the wind and bring joy to children on their way home from school.
So, if you can, please, don’t step on a caterpillar. It could be you. It could be me. It could be just what we need. Change. Beautiful change.