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.)


Life Out Of Death

Wildflowers growing up against a gravestone

Life and death seem inextricably linked.

All the time our body cells are dying, giving way to new, living cells.

Last autumn, as I watched leaves falling and plants dying back, I reflected on the fact that it’s all a process of renewal. The fallen vegetation simply turns into life-giving compost for new shoots.

Death often means loss and heartache, but it’s also rarely, if ever, the end.

A life well-lived leaves a legacy of hope and thanks – and hearts of positive momentum.

I read an article by Richard Rohr recently, in which the Franciscan friar stated that we shouldn’t be surprised at Jesus’ resurrection, because dying and rebirth seems to be the pattern written into the very fabric of the universe.

This principle seems to be borne out in one of my favourite local nature haunts: fittingly, the grounds of an old church, whose ruined building and neglected graveyard have become a haven for wildlife.

Last summer, when I visited with my family, it was an absolute delight to see the graveyard teeming with Common Blue butterflies. Because it was evening, when the butterflies become less active, they could be picked up in my young daughter’s hands, and I could get up close with a short-range zoom and take pictures like this one:

Common Blue, July 2018, Old St Helen’s Church

Today we visited Old St Helen’s Church but the sun had gone in and perhaps it was a little too early in the year for the Common Blues. In fact, disappointingly, we didn’t see a single butterfly. However, I did spot this Common Marbled Carpet. A blurry photo (because it settled on a tree branch in very low light), but a rather beautiful and unusual moth:

Common Marbled Carpet moth
Life out of death

Read About Spirit of Nature here.