Dad’s voice startled me and my eyes popped open. I had no idea I’d fallen asleep in the long spring grass near our front fence. When I’d wiped the sleep away, there was a little black face attached to a pudgy body. It hung from the milkweed branch by a shinny thread, just a few inches from my face.
The worm wiggled when I moved, lifted its head, pulled itself up to a broad pointed leaf and glanced down at me before winding into a tight ball. What the heck was that?
“I hollered for you a few minutes ago,” Dad said as he walked toward me.
I scooted away from the plant. “Sorry, but this thing …”
“Diner’s ready,” Dad said, and reached down to give me a hand. I guess he didn’t hear me.
We climbed the porch steps while I tried to explained, “this worm-like thing was hanging from the milkweed … it was almost in my face.”
“Probably a spider, but I’m glad you woke. Come, let’s eat.”
“It wasn’t like any spider I’ve ever seen,” I said, then got a whiff of something wonderful. “What’s cooking?”
“A crock pot roast I put in this morning before I repainted the old boards on the side of the chicken coop. Want to take a look?” he asked.
“Sure,” and we headed back outside to the hen-house.
“Why so many colors?” was all that came to mind.
“I guess it must be the artist in me,” he teased.
“I’ve never seen a one painted that way. Think the hens will notice?”
“I hope so. I wanted to perk them up. They’ve gotten lazy. Let’s go have pot roast.”
“Dad, the thing dangling from the milkweed? That wasn’t a spider.”
“Describe what you saw.”
“It had a tiny worm-like body. It wiggled, turned upside down, and pulled itself to the leaf. It had a little black head, colored stripes around its body, and a ton of feet.”
“Nope, you’re right. The way you’ve described it, I think it’s a monarch caterpillar. Monarchs fly up this way and lay eggs on the milkweed leaves. They will grow and become caterpillars … if they survive.”
“Why wouldn’t they?”
“Wasps find them tasty, and parasites can destroy them. Remember when your mom was ill? Her cancer was similar to a parasite that went throughout her body and made her too sick to fight any longer.”
“I know, Dad. I hope nothing like that happens to the caterpillar.”
Dad’s face took on a sadness. He came over, put his arm around my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “Me too,” he whispered. Try to keep an eye out. If it’s a monarch caterpillar, they crawl all over in search of food, and grow quickly. We must water the milkweed regularly so they have plenty to eat.”
“But we have lots of plants in the garden.”
“They’ll only eat milkweed. There may be more of those little guys on the leaves. You didn’t spot this one until it almost landed in your mouth,” Dad chuckled.
“If you can keep an eye on the caterpillar, you’ll notice all of the changes its body goes through before it eventually becomes a beautiful butterfly.”
“I can’t imagine this caterpillar turning into anything pretty. I hope I can find him again.”
“What makes you believe it’s a him?” Dad asked.
“I guess he could be a girl.”
“We’ll have to wait to find out, Son.”
“How will we know?”
“I guess if it puts on high heels, we’ll have a clue,” Dad laughed.
“Yes, but we can’t be sure until it becomes a butterfly. The boy monarchs look a little different from the gals.”
“How do you know so much about them?” I asked.
“One of our local master gardeners on creating a garden habitat for them. He also provided a lot of information about their metamorphosis process. We’ll find pictures that show the difference between the boys and the girls.”
“Besides the high heels?” I asked and laughed.
“Oh yeah. But right now, your homework’s calling. The weekend’s almost over. Don’t forget to check on your new friend in the morning before the bus comes. This could be a lot of fun.”
“As much fun as having a dog?” I asked.
“Maybe. Caterpillars won’t chase balls though.”
“So … can I have a puppy when it turns into a butterfly and leaves?”
“That’s a whole different conversation, Son.”
About the author shari2845