Over the last few days, I’ve really been caught up with these little eggs and caterpillars we discovered out in the yard. Now we realize that they’re not only on the dill plants, they are also on the large bronze fennel plant we have out front, too. Today, G watched a large black swallow-tail land in the dill and actually lay some more eggs. She tried to get a picture of it, but it happened too fast.
Every morning, since Peggy showed us the eggs, I’ve been going outside right around sunrise to say my prayer for the Gulf and then I spend some time in the dill and fennel, looking for eggs and checking on the progress of the caterpillars. They are growing incredibly fast; seriously, I have seen them go from about half an inch to nearly an inch in the space of one day. I kid you not. And neither the dill nor the fennel seems to be suffering much.
This morning the weather was cool and cloudy, with just a tiny breeze. As I crouched down in amongst the dill plants, I took my glasses off, as I now have to do in order to see anything up close. As the rest of the world blurred around me, I began to focus on the small world of one dill stalk. What a busy place a frond of dill is! There were the tiny, translucent spheres of the butterfly eggs yet unhatched. There were amazingly tiny baby caterpillars, a couple with egg bits on them, sitting carefully on the tops of the dill flowers. Further down were a couple of their half-inch siblings, now sporting the garish black, white and orange stripes and attached firmly to the dill branches. Then, I noticed the near-invisible threads of a tiny spider web and its pencil-eraser-sized occupant, partly attached to the dill plant and partly attached somewhere else. I hoped it was busy catching mosquitoes. As I peered even closer, I noticed a trail of aphids on the main stalk of the dill, then not too far away the brilliant red and black of a lady bug. You know you’ve been looking at tiny things when a lady bug seems huge! Then, looking at the next plant over, which wasn’t dill; in fact, might be some kind of weed, I happened to notice a clutch of some other kind of insect eggs–these were bright red, looking like shiny, tiny beads of caviar. I’ll have to keep an eye on those and see what hatches out of them.
As the breeze picked up, I was aware of the strong aroma of dill wafting off the plants, and the birds in the yard who kept flying down to perch on the pea trellis only to burst off in fright whenever I raised my head from peering down into the plants. I noticed how the umbrella-like flowers of the dill were starting to make tiny seeds as well as catching other types of seeds that had been airborne on the wind. The bees buzzed around, trying to find some pollen not only on the dill but the other flowers in the yard. If the mosquitoes were not quite so awful right now, I think I’d like to just go lie down there in that patch of garden (being very careful not to crush any plants) and just listen to all that tiny, busy life around me.
Taking my focus and my attention inward, one small dill plant suddenly becomes a major highway for multiple forms of life. One plant for me; nearly an entire planet for some creatures. I think about being so careful when I move in the garden now, watching for the miniscule spider webs, seeing the little spiders tucked up in the fronds where they branch off from the main stalk in the day time, after they abandon their webs.
G has been worried about what to “feed” the caterpillars. I explained to her that the dill and fennel are their whole world. Mama butterfly knew just where to lay her eggs so that her brood would have all the food and shelter they needed for however long it takes for the caterpillars to come to maturity and then form their chrysalis. Then, in only 9 to 11 days–can you IMAGINE–9 to 11 days to become an entirely different kind of creature?? Those amazing, beautiful butterflies will emerge, dry their damp wings on the remains of their cocoons. and fly off to start the cycle all over again.
The garden this year is not as productive as it has been in past years. A large part of it, of course, is because we were gone for nearly a month at the height of planting time. But maybe that’s a good thing. This year, because we were gone and the land was quieter than usual, we were able to be blessed with a different kind of crop–a living harvest of magical creatures, all stemming from a volunteer crop of dill.
Life is not only good, it is stunning.