caterpillar midwives

She laid you down in a pocket of soil. Not the sedge—the perfectly good sedge, potted and planted in soil three experts said would be beneficial for the plant’s growth. Inadvertently, it would be beneficial for your growth, too, but we didn’t mean it like that. We didn’t mean it like that. So she laid you down in a pocket of soil, where I found you. Almost missed you, tucked away in that almost-grave. I almost missed you, but the white light of my torch caught your emerald glint against all that chocolate brown. I said, “Oh fuck.” Because I thought I’d found all of you—had just finished recording the numbers on the data sheet after thirty minutes of careful scrutiny, watchful eyes searching the sedge, the rim of the orange pot, the white screen and clear plastic walls of the enclosure. Searching for that emerald glint. I said, “Oh fuck.” Because I was thrilled: I caught you before it was too late. While I put gloves on, the kind I would don whenever I had a new patient on the ambulance, I thought about your mother.

She laid you down in a pocket of soil, the six of you. Laid you down in the soil as if she’d heard how they almost snuffed out your hometown with US31 before Fish & Wildlife snuffed out the construction project first. Laid you down in the soil as if she’d heard mourning cloaks lay up high in the poplar trees, and monarchs, when they choose milkweed, go deep, far away from where any human can see. Laid you down in the soil as if she’d heard our propagation program has never seen caterpillars through the winter anyway.

I wetted the tip of a fine paintbrush with reverse osmosis water.

I double-checked the petri dish was nearby, double-checked I wouldn’t disturb any of the other clutches in the overhanging sedge blades.

I tucked a stray piece of hair behind my ear.

Bit my lip.

Fixed my eyes on that pocket of soil, where the six of you were.

I held my breath, reached in with the paintbrush and wondered if maybe your mother didn’t have questionable instincts after all.

Maybe she just knew better.

Female Mitchell’s satyr butterfly (Neonympha mitchellii mitchellii). Photo by Ronda Spink.

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