Female Monarch on Goldenrod ©Rebekah Lowell
In a not-so-instant—everything changed.
We are used to everything happening in an instant. If an image takes more than a millisecond to load, we lose interest. If a coffee takes too long to make, we are impatient. If a text doesn’t come through right away, we think something is wrong.
As a child, my mom used to raise monarchs with us. For many years I lost touch with this activity, but in 2014, I rediscovered it, and began raising monarchs again with my daughters. We would bring one or two caterpillars inside and gather fresh milkweed for them daily, watching them change from caterpillar, to chrysalis, to butterfly, then release them.
Without knowing the intricacies of what was happening to them, we were witnessing a miracle in each unfolding of wings.
Each year since then, the operation has grown, and now, six years later, we’re rescuing over one hundred monarchs from a nearby hayfield this summer, providing a safe haven for them to do their thing. I have no role in their transformation other than providing food and shelter. They do the hard work.
Each monarch begins life as an egg. From my observations, they spend about four to seven days in this stage. When they hatch, the tiny hatchling eats the shell it formed in and proceeds to nibble the soft fuzz on fresh milkweed leaves, usually chomping a C shape around themselves.
As the caterpillar grows, they molt over and over, four times actually. This is not a fast process. After two weeks or so, they create a silk button to hold onto and attach themselves to it, then hang upside down in a J shape. The fifth molt is when they reveal their final soft green chrysalis, like a cloak around them while they continue changing. Nothing is rushed. All is purposeful.
In this stage, they transform behind the safety of their chrysalis. We can’t see everything happening underneath. To an onlooker, the first several days seems quiet and uneventful. Then the chrysalis begins to darken. You may even think something is wrong, but then all of a sudden, one morning, they break free from this shell and work hard to pump fluid into their wings. When they first eclose (the butterfly term for emerge), their wings are small. Again, you may think something is wrong.
In fact, when I was a child, I did think something was wrong and I helped my butterfly out of their chrysalis instead of letting them push and struggle, like they needed to, on their own. Because I “helped”, I interfered with their process and this prevented their wings from fully growing. My butterfly never flew.
I’ll never forget that experience. Sometimes when we don’t wait, and we rush things, or try to change things, we get in the way of what is becoming. Sometimes the best thing to do is to take a step back, observe, and wait. Patience isn’t easy, but it comes with practice. I’m still practicing.