Fragile Do Not Crush

This is Ire, which means “blessing” in Yoruba.

Last month when I brought her home she was a handsome lime green caterpillar with striking black stripes, yellow spots, and retractable orange horns used to spray a noxious odor at would-be predators and admiring onlookers alike. She had an insatiable appetite, wandering the apartment across surprisingly long distances in search of food. We found her alternately under the stove, behind the couch, and tucked in a lampshade, searching for her host plant, fennel, which we dotingly gathered for her during nightly neighborhood foraging forays. After ten days of frenzied feeding she slowed down as if gathering her energy and attached herself to a stem by weaving two sticky silvery threads 3 cm long, reclining in a minimalist hammock of her own making. She remained motionless for another 48 hours, poised in hanging meditation. We checked on her at midnight and saw no change, but awoke early the next morning to find her transformed into a green leafy sheath with finely sculptured ridges, miniature aretes, a carved closed pocket of grass.

We considered whether we could still call this thing that could pass for a bird dropping Ire. Does caterpillar consciousness carry over to chrysalis consciousness? What memories does the butterfly preserve? Ire hung suspended in stillness for three weeks, during which time we fretted over her like expectant parents, making sure to keep all the windows open in case she hatched when we were not home. Then her chrysalis turned orange, and I was sure she was rotting, dying because we had not provided enough food for her during her voracious larval stage. In the midst of my maternal lament she emerged, ever the metaphor for resurrection and renewal of faith. We marveled at her size (how did such a large butterfly fit into such a compact cocoon?). We marveled at her colors (yellow, with orange eye spots and a dashing vibrant blue trim), her symmetry, her tuxedo coattails, and her one salient ability: to climb UP.  She tested her wings, fell down, climbed up. Tested her wings, fell down, climbed up. (How did she know which way was up?) We admired her confidence and tenacity. In one of her test flights, she landed on this box by an accident of instinct. Ire sent us this message before she flew out the window: Fragile: do not crush.

Watching her first faltering flight, I feared that with her wings and the world being so new, she would quickly become the snack of a passing passerine. I choose instead to imagine her drinking nectar somewhere, tucked into the deep cup of some lucky flower, ever true to her name.