The Swallowtail.

All summer long I had watched the cocoon. Small, brown and shaped like a dead leaf, it clung to the leaves of my pineapple plant. During the fall, I checked on it and finally on a very cold winter evening, I discovered it on the ground. It was still fully intact but very vulnerable on the cold ground.

I removed a piece of pineapple leaf and put it along with the cocoon into a plastic Tupperware box. My clumsy fingers formed grass and loose branches into a ramshackle nest. No lid covered the box and it was placed beneath my brightly-lit desk lamp. From reading various nature books, I knew the extra heat and warmth helped the insect to emerge faster.

Looking through my nature books, I found no matches for the cocoon type. So I hit the information super-highway a.k.a. Was it a moth or a butterfly? When did they normally emerge? How big was it going to be? After 15 minutes of searching a site for insects native to Florida, I discovered the cocoon was chrysalis, meaning from a butterfly, and the species looked like a Spicebush Swallowtail.  It would be a large butterfly and need to stretch out its wings after emerging lest it be crippled for life. Before going to bed that night, I checked the chrysalis and spotted a tiny crack in its leaf-like exterior. I prayed the butterfly would emerge when I was at home to release it. The indoors harbored many dangers for the little guy such as a fall from my desk or an encounter with my cat.

On Saturday morning I checked on it, still nothing. So I recited Lauds and went back to bed. Waking again at noon, I prepared to leave for Holy Mass with my friend Leo. Suddenly, as I was checking my facebook messages, a slight movement caught my attention. The little crack grew wider and instantly, a wrinkled, black thing crawled out. Quickly I ran to show my mom in the next room.

“What is it?” she asked.

“It’s a butterfly!” I cried out.

“It doesn’t look like one…” she remarked.

True enough. The insect was inky black with gangling legs and a shriveled mess on its back. The awkward bug made way to the end of the container then back again, trying to get out. I knew what came next: freedom.

I moved outside into the sunlight. The insect teetered unable to scale the slippery plastic walls. I stuck my finger inside and let it climb up. Its scratchy legs tickled my arm. A childish giggle escaped my lips. Yet I had to leave for Mass very soon. Quickly, I snapped off a few hibiscus branches and formed a ladder hanging out of the Tupperware container. Then carefully, I let the butterfly climb back down. He found the ladder and walked to the end where he perched comfortably. Upside-down on the branch, he pumped his steadily expanding wings. He definitely looked like a butterfly now, and moreso, a swallowtail. I stood over him, beaming with joy. This special moment could have lasted for ever. He made it through the harsh winter to adulthood. How privileged I felt to witness this beautiful event, a new life coming forth, the first sign of spring.



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