Saving the Caterpillars

I have taken to spotting the sudden August profusion of caterpillars making their way across the park path before the sun makes it over the trees. Danger is everywhere, a veritable Omaha Beach, but with unwitting enemies. A steady fusillade of pedestrians, drivers and cyclists go about their morning through the park, unknowingly poised to crush the hapless creatures in but one more episode of natural, deadly roulette. Deliberating hardly at all in my mission of mercy, I begin scooping up first one, then another and another caterpillar and depositing them on the grass three feet and an eternity away, abutting the forested hillside. Then I turn back to espy two more, just a few feet ahead as an SUV turns in from the street coming at us. If this were a movie, the percussion soundtrack would intensify, and were these baby chicks I would think nothing of putting up a hand to halt the driver until the little innocents make it to safety. But a couple of lowly crawlers invisible to all but myself? It occurs to me that an implicit hierarchy is at play here, some creatures deemed worthy of intervention (Save the Whales!) while others spawn only our aggression (Crush the Cockroaches! ). And here, hairy little caterpillars sans majesty or personality would seem to invite benign neglect at best were it not for a magic card they carry along on those six legs: the prospect of metamorphosis to a fluttering creature weaving a rhapsodic poetry through the skies. As it happens, some 20,000 butterfly species still sip from gardens and forests around the world, and have been doing so for a reported 55 million years. They are endangered now, cars and cyclists and runners the least of their nemeses, a decades-long study released last summer showing a steady annual decline. The suspected culprit: climate and habitat change. The trends seem colossal and beyond my control—except on this morning, when I raise a hand that slows the car that gives me the time to put thumb and forefinger together to usher first one then another pre-metamorphosized creature to at least temporary safety, their numbers holding steady for this brief moment in this tiny slice of this sprawling fathomless universe of devastation and beauty, temporality and grace.



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Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.

Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact:

Caterpillar by Andrew Hidas

Information on butterflies was gleaned from the following:

4 comments to Saving the Caterpillars

  • Jeanette Millard  says:

    Awww, this is so tender and sweet. I love your story and also the film.
    Not much tender and sweet happening in my life these days!
    Thank you.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Thanks, Jeanette! Had fun thinking about this, and of course, now I am seeing caterpillars everywhere—along with butterflies, since Mary planted all these juicy pollinators! In a few weeks, I’m hoping to espy one of these butterflies and be able to say, “Hey, didn’t I know you when you were just a tyke crawling along on your belly??”

  • Claire Spencer  says:

    I lost my son 10 years ago. My granddaughter, who was four at the time, said that the butterfly she saw was Uncle Wes. They have had an extra special place in my heart since then.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      That’s lovely, Claire, thanks so much for sharing it. May that memory and image help sustain you through the trials of this anniversary year. Butterflies are certainly among an elite group of metaphors that feed the human spirit. There are various phenomena that are so striking that I find myself falling back on the phrase, “That almost makes me believe in God.” It’s meant to draw a laugh, but truly, metamorphosis and the end result of a butterfly flitting about one’s garden on a sunny day is enough to keep one pondering!

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