Chrysalis

November 15, 2005 at 12:35 am (Uncategorized)

If I ever I have another blog, that’s what it will be called. A chrysalis, or pupa, is the third life stage of the butterfly. Sometimes you’ll see leathery, dead leaf-looking things hanging under another leaf in the summertime. Its not a dead leaf. Its life, going through yet another metamorphosis.

The only chrysalis I can recall seeing was that of the monarch. I was at my neighbor’s house many years ago. My neighbor was a retired Science teacher, who loved to spoil me. She used to sing me songs about robins and redbirds and show me pictures of her children and grandchildren and I would play games in the summer with her great-grandchildren. She made a simple blanket for my doll which I kept long after I stopped playing with dolls.

It was on the steps of the patio outside her basement that she showed me this:

I wanted to take it home and keep it, waiting for the butterfly inside to emerge. As always, she counseled me that some living things are not meant for houses and should we disturb the thin waxy coating, the butterfly may not emerge at all. Then she took me in the house and showed me her Audubon books and all around us the scent from the flowers blew into the house while bumblebees buzzed. After she had filled my head with beautiful birds, we took leftover scraps of food in a bucket and dumped them at the edge of her property.

As though called by the wafting breeze, most certainly the food, Charlie would show up. Charlie was the groundhog the food was for. It was such an amazing thing then, to watch Charlie sniff and grasp and chew and then sit up on his little legs like a prairie dog. His great furry belly, his little feet. He was an endless source of amusement for us both.

Other wildlife came and went. My mom once saw a mountain lion on her lawn, and three foxes took up residence for a while. A brush fire, fought by the local fire department and the neighbor’s destroyed the entire mountainside. I used my tiny tennis shoes to stamp out flames on the edge of her property. Later, her great-niece and I climbed the charred wasteland and brought back buckets of dead snails.

In the winter, when she was well, I would take her mail and receive hot chocolate made with milk warmed on her old gas stove with marshmallows on top. Then she began spending winters with one of her children and then those winters melted into Spring and then summers, when I would mow her grass, but she was not there to see the flowers bloom, or hear the bumblebees buzz. When her children did bring her, she could not remember me.

She used to ask who I was and when I would tell her, she would laugh and say, “Oh, I remember. You used to stand on a chair and wash my dishes,” and everyone would laugh with her, until she asked again, who I was. And whether it be me or someone else, they would tell her, and she would laugh and say, “Oh, I remember you. You used to stand on a chair and wash my dishes.”

In my memory, I walk into her house again, the dark brown screen door closing behind, the old white storm door with the old-fashioned knob standing against the refrigerator. The sink where I used to wash her dishes is to the left. The window there overlooked her irises, a bird feeder, and Charlie. Beside the doorway is the old white stove and I can still smell the dishwashing liquid she used and the gas from the burner before the fire lit.

Through the doorway and to the left is her bookshelf, where she kept the books that enchanted me, even before I could read, and the table where we sat as she ate her cornbread and buttermilk. The picture window had the same view as the one from the kitchen, just a different bird feeder. And I stand where the floor furnace was, I see her old TV, and the furniture covered with crocheted blankets. I glimpse the bedrooms, a white chenille bedspread, the tiny bathroom, and another room, always darkened. In the furthest corner is the sun room.

I pull open the door to the basement and the wide wooden steps creak, just like they did then. I smell earth and must, and there’s measuring cups and big tin pots that she made apple butter in; the roaster is still sitting on the counter. Water is dripping from the faucet that overlooks the window under the front porch. I step outside and I’m back on the patio where she showed me the chrysalis. I can smell flowers, cut grass, and hear bees buzzing. The crab apple tree is bowing before the pines. The creek runs down the side of the mountain, under the road, through the ditch, under the bridge, under the road, to the river.

She was right. You can’t disturb the chrysalis, because if you do, you’ll never have a butterfly.

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