My four-year-old niece and six-year-old nephew were the recent recipients of larvae—in this case, ladybug and butterfly larvae, the most sophisticated life forms yet to grace their small Brooklyn apartment (the previous, short-term residents having been “sea monkeys,” the almost-microscopic creatures more commonly known as brine shrimp).
The ladybug larvae lived in a clear, small domed home and the caterpillars in a netted one. Of course, I immediately asked my sister whether she had prepared the talk about trying versus succeeding and the nature of death in anticipation that these small creatures, delivered via the U.S. Postal Service, would not survive their hatching. She, of course, gave me a withering look and suggested that I have a more positive attitude.
Her optimism was well-founded. Each time I came to visit (which is frequently, since I live within walking distance), Matthew and Sarah intently shared each closely observed change. They were excited to be watching life grow, if only teeny-weeny lives. They felt responsible for these insects, discoursing on what they ate and how they stayed alive. As the days passed, the ladybug larvae transformed. Only one butterfly failed to emerge.
They asked their dad if they could release them in our backyard. I was at work but of course said yes. Arriving home after work, I immediately went outside in the evening dusk. Of course, I knew they would be nowhere to be found. But I hunted. Are you there, ladybugs? Have you flown away butterflies? (Have you been eaten?)
We have ladybugs is our small yard each summer, along with dragon flies, fireflies, four or five kinds of bees, and butterflies. (And also mosquitoes that bite us and potato bugs and slugs that eat our vegetation.) This year, will some of these residents be Sarah and Matt’s?
Matthew and Sarah’s sense of natural curiosity, wonder, and discovery, their care of and interest in these smallest of creature that for them are both beautiful and magical reminded me of the small beauties and adventures that are around us every day, of the magic that is creation.
Maybe that’s why the small plastic dome is still out in the backyard, just there next to the skip laurel, the remainders of larvae skins glued to its side, the ladybugs gone.