Neighbour Nature

Last week, on 16th July, I came across this rather wonderful, large, hairy caterpillar under the lip of our next door neighbour’s gatepost.

The few strands of thread it had woven across itself were the first scant (but obvious) signs that it was starting to pupate.

16th July

Aha, I thought – a blog opportunity! I’ll monitor the caterpillar’s progress and post photos of its pupation at different stages and, if possible, its eventual emergence as an adult moth.

After a bit of research in my moth book (and of course Google!), I thought it might be a Buff Ermine caterpillar, but I’m still not that sure.* It seems too big for such a small moth, and Buff Ermine are meant to pupate in leaf debris, not on walls or…gateposts.

17th July

Anyway, after the first two days (as per photos above), the caterpillar just lay there – motionless – a slightly shrivelled version of its previous self.

For nearly 3 whole days.

During that period, as time went on, I became increasingly convinced it was dead. That metamorphosis just hadn’t worked out for this unlucky larva.

So I stopped taking photos.

This isn’t going to make much of a blog after all, I concluded.

Each day I checked on the apparently deceased caterpillar.

Then, on 20th July, lo and behold, in place of the caterpillar lay this perfectly formed chrysalis, with the discarded larval skin to the side.

20th July: pupa and discarded skin

How did that happen? I mean, literally, how and when did that happen?

Clearly when I wasn’t looking.

What looked like death, or dying, was simply masking an incredible, internal transformation. Beneath its skin, the caterpillar’s cells had been miraculously rearranging themselves before finally shaking off its mantle to reveal the pupa’s hard shell.

What looks or feels like death, or dying, may simply be shrouding a process of internal transformation. Or reformation.

Have you ever experienced some heart-wrenching or dis-heartening episode in your life that feels like death, only to realise afterwards that this was the thing that ultimately brought you into a new kind of life? That actually awakened your heart.

Or consciously thrown off a habit – a deliberate act of loss that feels like grieving for an old friend – only to find that you gained so much more than you lost?

Death is seldom, if ever, the end.

Nature teaches this time after time, as I reflected in my attempt at poetry, Twist of Fate, inspired by a fallen tree trunk that had burst into life.

As an aspiring contemplative with an ambivalent relationship with my evangelical past, my understanding of death is, like the nature that I record in word and picture, still evolving.

Is death really an enemy that’s been destroyed by a Saviour?

Or did Jesus come to transform our understanding of and relationship with death, so we can accept and even embrace it as an integral part of creation’s design?

To awaken us to the reality of hope and life beyond dying, which nature had been teaching us all along, if only we had eyes to see.

Perhaps, as one spiritual writer has said, we shouldn’t really have been surprised at Jesus’ resurrection.

Just as I shouldn’t have been surprised at the sudden appearance of the chrysalis after 3 days.

After all, it’s not the first time that life has re-emerged after 3 days!


(*If I manage to catch sight of the moth hatching in a few months’ time, I’ll update this post, and should then have more definite identification.)


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