By Jenny Leigh Hodgins All photos, music, video content © 2018 by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
A couple of years ago, while leisurely checking on my plants in my Florida garden, I discovered 13 caterpillars on my tropical milkweed. New to the whole idea of gardening and unaware that these were Monarch caterpillars, I quickly did a Google search and found a Facebook group to consult.
The Race To Rescue Began
I didn’t know anything about Monarch butterflies. I learned from the Facebook group and online research that the Monarch’s numbers are drastically dwindling in our region and the world. I learned that due to pesticides (i.e., in Florida neighborhoods, regular trucks spray for mosquitos), only a few survive disease. Those that live face the threat of predators (like wasps and lizards) if left alone with mother nature.
Instead of killing these critters for eating my milkweed, instead, based on the advice of The Beautiful Monarch Facebook group and other friends with Monarch expertise, I actually decided to bring the caterpillars indoors.
This is how I began my first experience with ‘rescuing’ Monarchs from predators or harsh elements. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, as I tediously coaxed the hungry caterpillars onto fresh milkweed leaves and stems, to transfer into a mesh container.
For those who don’t know, mature Monarch caterpillars climb onto something where they sew an attachment from which they can hang upside down in a ‘J’ shape. They later shake a shimmy-like dance to shed their caterpillar skin and form a chrysalis which hardens. (Watch my video below showing that process.) During a period of time, they undergo a mystifying metamorphosis to emerge as an orange and black Monarch butterfly!
After a quick local internet search, I learned the importance of having a closed container so that I wouldn’t have caterpillars forming chrysalides everywhere inside my home. Since I have two real cats who would be driven mad from curiosity about these new indoor roommates, I knew I had to get the 13 caterpillars in a solidly closed container.
I had a race against time as these big fifth stage cats were already beginning to spin their silks before I could get them into a properly sealed container. At 9:30pm, I ran down to a local store to buy a pop-up, zippered laundry basket, only to discover holes for handles when I got home. Consulting with the Facebook group butterfly aficionados, I knew I needed to seal the holes to prevent escapes.
I called my mother in Kentucky, whose many artistic talents include being a seamstress. At 10pm, she taught me over the phone how to quickly sew tulle across the laundry handles to end escape routes. I am not a seamstress by any stretch of imagination, so dealing with tulle and a needle was a tortuous and annoying task. (I'm sure Mom could relay the cursing and grunting vividly.)
Once the containers were sealed securely, I transferred ten fat caterpillars and one chrysalis that had already formed on a milkweed stem propped through saran-wrap in a cup of water. Two chrysalides had already formed in separate mesh containers, so I put them under my patio table's umbrella netting, double-sealing the container openings with T-shirts, towels and rubberbands. What a botched job!
By the next day all but two caterpillars had morphed into solid green chrysalides hanging from the mesh at the top of the laundry basket. I discovered one green chrysalis had formed on my bedroom dresser top!
Coaxed carefully by my new Facebook group mentors, I managed to gently detach and transport it to join the others in the large mesh container. I pinned it to scotch tape across the top of the container. I felt like a doctor performing my first important surgery.
The final caterpillar finally shed its face to reveal its beautiful green and gold-rimmed chrysalis right in front of me just three days after I had rescued it. (See my short video of this remarkable transformation below.)
I barely had enough time to get these caterpillars into containers before they morphed into chrysalides. The fast-paced learning curve that was keeping me on my toes took another sharp turn when I discovered four chrysalides turning brown and one with long white strings hanging from it.
Again, my dear Facebook group butterfly mothers came to my aid. This was my first heartbreak; discovering I had to freeze these chrysalides due to the parasite fly that had infected them. It was important to quickly separate the infected ones from those remaining. (This also taught me to rescue earlier than later to avoid such infestation.)
Down to nine small, beautiful, dainty light-green chrysalides with sparkly gold bands around the top layers (see photos below), I began the countdown to see how many butterflies would survive to healthfully emerge.
Why Bother With Creeping Crawling Critters?
Some of my friends thought I’d gone off the deep end when they heard about this project. Especially considering I knew next to nothing about the Monarch Butterfly, am generally freaked out by insects of any kind, and already have too many irons in the fire, my singular focus must have seemed a bit bizarre. What compelled me to put so much effort into creeping, crawling things I knew little about?
The Preciousness of Each Life Mirrors Our Value As Individuals
I instinctively knew the value of this life-form. Rather, I was moved by the value of any and all life-forms, and wanted to protect it if I had the power to do so. (I'm that kind of person who scoots lizards and spiders out the door versus squishing them.)
I had no idea if my efforts would save even one Monarch. But since each caterpillar is a form of life, it struck me as precious and worth every effort. Something about these creatures pushed a button in me.
The experience showed me a deeper, philosophical and beautiful meaning. It opened my eyes to my challenge to see each person in my life through that same ‘life is precious’ filter. I knew that for me to be able to value the dignity of people around me, fundamentally I must value my own life.
Deepening my vision to see past differences and flaws to revere the positive potential of each individual life underlying these superficialities is my new determination. Wow, what a bunch of caterpillars have taught me about my life-view. Imagine what an emerging butterfly would accomplish!
Stay tuned for the next chapter in my emerging butterfly series.
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Watch my video below to see a Monarch caterpillar shake a shimmy-like dance to shed his caterpillar skin and form a chrysalis which hardens into a green and gold gem.
by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
BIG PLAN A
I’ve had surprising challenges since I set out to achieve personal goals. I made bold decisions to leave a career I’d outgrown, sell my home, move out-of-state to become caregiver for my aging parent, then use my new situation to apply myself toward my lifelong dreams of freelance writing and music composing.
CHANGE CAN BE AWKWARD
I’ve learned through this process that just because I’m doing something for a good reason (help my mother and relieve other family members) doesn’t mean it will be easy or even appreciated by others. In fact, big changes bring out big obstacles. People need time to adjust to significant transitions. Sometimes the initial shift brings out uncomfortable aspects within a relationship or from within a person. People just flat-out respond differently (including me). I’m learning to check my expectations at the door, lower my judgements, strive to listen to opposing perspectives, and work on the only person I have control over; me.
EXPECT NOTHING TO BE EASY
I’ve also learned that going after my dreams doesn’t mean they will be handed to me on a silver platter. In fact, it’s been my experience that thinking the hardest part is over is almost always wrong—Something more difficult or unexpected often presents itself. It is best to prepare myself to expect nothing to be easy, and to forge a life-state ready for impending challenges.
I’ve found that being true to myself and going all out for my dreams means I may face resistance in the form of judgement from others whose values differ from my own, or who have an outdated version of me in their psyche. That means I must embolden myself to withstand countering views, to stand my ground and persist on paving my new pathway without support or understanding. Again, expect nothing.
WHEN PLAN A LEADS TO PLAN B
Reflecting on myself through this process of obstacles, I’ve have found my weaknesses as well as strengths I didn’t realize were in me. On the plus side, I’ve discovered that despite the fact my best laid plans were completely skewed from the start, I have qualities that enable me to push through and create Plan B.
Let me share a bit of my story to make my point; My plan to sell my home, use the profits to cover 6-months’ expenses for my out-of-state move while building my freelance career, was utterly botched by an inexperienced realtor, and an unforeseen hurricane. My home was under contract to close when I moved to Kentucky from Florida last July. But the buyer strung me and my realtor along a series of peculiar delays that I now know, in hindsight, should’ve been avoided by my realtor quickly cancelling that buyer’s contract early on to put my lovely home back on market immediately. Instead, that buyer failed to win loan approval after two months’ delay, then a hurricane of historic power struck near my home, causing a housing slow-down (fortunately no damage to my home).
Afterwards, as I stressed urgency to my realtor, she had an unprofessional melt-down, and vindictively sabotaged my home sale based on emotionalism. Though I attempted giving her time and the benefit of doubt, due to no showings in 5 months, I finally found a second realtor. My new realtor showed the home 11 times in less than 2 months during the slowest (holidays) season, and I’m under contract to close within a month from now. (Whew!)
VALUE OF STRUGGLES
This is only a partial view of the story, as I’ve simultaneously dealt with additional challenges as a caregiver, and with family issues that slowed down my focus on establishing my income as a writer and composer. But, I’ve also had a variety of mystic protection and benefits.
I was eligible for disaster relief due to the hurricane, even though my home suffered zero damage! This allowed me nearly 6 months of freedom from a credit card and mortgage payments! I also managed to grow my IRA more than $5K than I anticipated, and found an amazing, trustworthy financial investment manager (through a trusted, well-to-do family friend) who will aggressively grow my IRA rollover well beyond what my small teacher pension could produce. I had a wonderful group of capable men volunteer (in 20°, snowy weather) to move my belongings from an expensive to affordable, more convenient storage unit! I have a community of peer composers who tutor me free of charge at all hours of day or night in technological aspects needed for my music production skills.
I’m grateful for these wonderful benefits, but find my struggles exponentially more valuable. Through adversity, I’ve begun to forge tenacity, resourcefulness, flexibility, appreciation, develop patience, tap into my inherent wisdom, and fuel my sense of empathy for others facing unforeseen challenge. I’ve also learned that my tendencies to doubt myself, complain about my hardships, be inflexible and narrow-minded, do not add value nor provide solutions, relief or comfort to me or anyone around me.
Having to experience a failed Plan A, move on to Plan B, while juggling all the adversity that entails, is an infinitely more valuable chapter in my life than having had everything go smoothly from the start. Why?
CHALLENGING WORKOUTS BUILD STRENGTH
Difficulties are like climbing mountains. The higher the altitude gets, the more the climber has to develop and expand in survival capacity. Just walking down a straight, flat road doesn’t test or build one’s abilities in comparison to climbing a mountain. But after climbing a mountain, a walk down the road feels like a vacation.
What I’ve learned is that Plan B is about my behavior as a human being. How do I become the most capable, compassionate, wise, person? How do I fulfill my greatest potential? Setting goals that seem impossible to achieve, getting my plans crushed and having to devise a new way through—being forced to find innovative ways to get through a challenge is what dreams are made of. Responding to each surprising obstacle with the determination to win victory no matter what is crucial to my becoming the best I can be.
Interestingly, the developments I make through my struggles in one aspect of my life interconnect and apply toward other aspects of my life. Through my 6-month journey, I’ve forged discipline to write, compose and network, bringing me a sudden burst of freelance work, creative projects, and personal connections. These are in sync with what I envisioned as my lifelong dream path as a writer and composer for peace.
Plan B is about my behavior as a human being. It’s about how I respond to the difficulties in front of me. It’s about how I create a better me out of the situation. Plan B, from this moment forward, is about Brilliant Transformation.
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In my Spiritual Wellness blogs, you’ll find ways to overcome obstacles, reach goals, and experience more joy in the moment with spiritual awareness and inner transformation.