NOTE: I fixed the broken photo links, but if they're still not showing up, please let me know!!
I don't really know how to describe today. It started off simply, like the soft opening notes of a beautiful piece of music. Strong coffee, blue sky, easy weather, wonderful friendship. I puttered around the garden as a friend took pictures, our conversation comfortable. We chatted, she photographed, I dug and transplanted. All was well and we marveled at the monarch caterpillar I had discovered Friday hanging so sturdily from the underside of a leaf of white gooseneck loosestrife.
It's thick body curled into a J, I watched and waited for something to happen but nothing did. It just hung there, its schedule oblivious to my desire. I sighed and wandered back toward my shovel, hours of work ahead. I found the caterpillar comforting, its new body soon to form the wings that would carry it aloft, and replace in the migration the bodyless monarch had I found near the dogwood on Friday.
As the afternoon drifted by, I stayed close to the bed of loosestrife. I had too much, it's eager roots shooting through the soil like jets poised for flight. They raced between the milkweed and suffocated the phlox. I dug, and stopped, dug and stopped, afraid of disturbing the caterpillar but too fascinated to leave. The caterpillar ignored me and I returned to wandering, the dogwood garden waiting patiently as I puttered between pots of plants and bags of plump bare roots. I grabbed a armful of plants and wandered back toward the loosestrife. And then I stopped completely. Hanging from a stem of phlox that had been bare twenty minutes before was a monarch butterfly, fresh from its chrysalis.
If you look to the very far left in the middle of this photo, you can see the caterpillar.
Its wings bright like stained glass, it was motionless. I gasped and ran to find my camera. I ran back quietly, hopping through the grass like a rabbit. The butterfly slowly made its way to the top of the stem and began to open and close its wings.
This picture shows the butterfly right before it flew to the crepe myrtle while the caterpillar contiues to hang from the loosestrife leaf.
I had never been so close to a monarch before. The garden was quiet, the dogs asleep in the sun. I continued to take pictures and the butterfly continued to ignore me. I backed up into the grass and it slowly climbed to the top of the stem, opened its wings and took flight to the nearest branch.
I was so close to the monarch I could have touched it. It continued to open and close its wings to warm itself and dry its wings.
Suddenly the garden erupted in sound, like the crashing symbals and thundering drums of a crescendo. I spun around as my dogs raced along the garden bed by the trumpet creeper and through the dog run, barking in fury. Fat and grey, the squirrel escaped through the fence and across the neighbors yard. Lucy, the most bumbling of my beasties, continued running towards the deutzia and I turned back to the butterfly. It was gone. As I headed across the yard, Lucy came trotting by, her mouth full, her head low. Too small to be a squirrel and too big to be a mouse, I stared at her in confusion as she slowly edged towards the dog run. "Lucy!" I called, my tone strong and demanding. She stopped and her mouth popped open. A small sparrow fell to the grass, it's eyes blinking, its body shaking from the frantic beating of its heart, its head hanging at an odd angle. I stopped and picked up the small bird. I couldn't move. It lay in my glove looking at me, blinking, quivering, silent. Softly laying the sparrow in a patch of anemones outside the gate, safe from the dogs, I stood and watched it shake in rhythm to its heart. It was painful to watch and I turned away. Death came slowly to the sparrow, the shaking giving way to twitching and then stillness.
From a butterflies first flight to a sparrows last, I had seen so much. I carried the dead bird to the woods near my house and covered it in brush. The garden was quiet, the music subdued. My garden is a concerto, an opera, a symphony but I am not the conductor. I am an usher, privy to the performance but not a part of it. I seat plants where they'll be happy, I keep everything organized, and then sit back and enjoy, even during the sad parts.