Hummingbird Moths

Vivid green in color with a horn on its tail, the caterpillar crawled nonchalantly across the La Quinta parking lot. I’d never seen one so big or bright with orange circles and yellow throughlines decorating its back.
I tossed my suitcase into the 4-Runner and hurried back to scoop it up. After I deposited it in a nearby field, not knowing then that some caterpillars are equipped with venomous stingers that can kill a human, I joined my hubby, daughter, and son-in-law for breakfast.
We’d spent the night in Kanab after attending a wedding reception for Ted’s niece. It was the last event of a full weekend which also included a baby shower in St. George and a visit with my niece.
After we arrived home, I searched caterpillar images on the internet, but I’d been in such a hurry I hadn’t taken a photograph, and none matched what I remembered. However, the search yielded some intriguing information.
According to Scientific American, a caterpillar develops imaginal cells while still in the egg. Those cells are initially seen as a disease by the caterpillar, so its immune system attacks them, but the imaginal cells continue to propagate and cluster to form discs.
After the caterpillar forms a cocoon or chrysalis, it secretes enzymes that dissolve most of its body except for the imaginal discs and, in some cases, its muscles and nervous system.
The discs feed on the dissolved tissue, undergo explosive growth, and metamorphize into the eyes, legs, antennae, and wings of the butterfly or moth. That winged beauty is radically different from the ravenous, alien-looking creature it once was.
With that lens of transformation, I looked back on our family gatherings. At the baby shower, the daddy reverently held his two-week-old girl against his chest while the rest of us oohed and aahed. Later, one of the grandmas held the baby with a look of stricken love on her face.
All of us, except the two-year-old sister, were in awe of this beautiful girl who had come to live among us. The entire process from beginning love to birth seemed miraculous.
The next evening, we visited my niece whose health had taken a nose dive since we’d seen her last. She’d ended up in the ICU with seizures and excruciating pain which she classified as a 12 out of ten.
“It was so bad,” she told us, leaning back in the recliner and pushing up the footrest, “I wanted to die.” But through the intervention of incredible doctors, nurses, and hundreds—if not thousands—of prayers, she’d pulled through. She was home now and on a new cancer drug which the doctors said could extend her life up to a year.
I cried when I leaned over to hug her, remembering the exquisite little girl I packed around on my hip. But her voice was determined when she said, “l plan to live long enough to attend the new Red Cliffs Temple and longer if I can.” The temple, just a few blocks from her home, is scheduled to open in March.
“We’d better see if we can get them to postpone the opening indefinitely.” My hubby hugged her, for once not joking. I pulled up a chair in front of her recliner while Ted sat on the couch beside her husband.
“I’m at peace.” My niece rested her head against the recliner as we talked about her mom and dad, brother and sister, son and daughter, all of whom were grieving. “But I’m sad my family has to go through this.” She paused, plucked a Kleenex out of the box, and daubed it under her eyes. “I still plan to fight.”
As much as I was in awe of the new baby the evening before, I was even more in awe of my niece. The power of metamorphosis resided in her rare combination of surrender, empathy, and willingness to fight, and I knew that sometimes miracles occur not through physical healing, but through deep emotional and spiritual healing which comes on the wings of love.
The wedding reception in Kanab was our last event of the weekend. The petite bride, who sometimes helped her dad on construction projects, told us that while the reception was lovely and she appreciated all the work, she’d be glad when it was over.
By the end of the evening, she and her groom had skinnied out of their wedding clothes and into sweats with the words Mrs. and Mr. blazoned on the front. They rode into their new life seated in an ATV with a sign “Just Married” hanging on the back. Their metamorphosis from “me” to “we” had just begun, and I couldn’t help but wonder what miracles would occur during that transformation.
A few days after we returned to Blanding, I was walking the dog when a vivid green caterpillar with orange circles, yellow throughlines, and a horn on its tail crawled across the street in front of us.
I caught my breath, struck by the strange synchronicity of seeing the same type of caterpillar 274 miles apart in less than a week. This time I took photographs. Then, I carried it, much more cautiously than before, and placed it safely under a blue spruce.
I later identified it as the white-lined sphinx moth, those wonderous creatures often mistaken for hummingbirds, and I pondered the painful transformation we undergo when our caterpillar selves dissolve to become fuel for our full-winged potential.

San Juan Record

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