Sunday, August 11, 2013


I have a mystery from my childhood that I go back to again and again.  I spent lots of time as a little girl at my grandparents' home in the Alquina, Indiana countryside. The air was filled with the humming of bees as they seduced the pollen from Grandma’s hollyhock bush and the constant thrumming of cicadas singing their hot summer song.  Everywhere I looked were fields of corn whose frizzy tassels sang a sibilant tune of their own. The old barn held many adventures for a little girl with a big imagination. Old tools with unimaginable purposes hung from the rafters, ladders to the hayloft begging to be climbed by a little girl with a big imagination, and the earthy smell still lingering from long ago horses that pulled the sleigh.  Seated on its cracked red leather seat, I picked up the reins that were draped over the side of the sleigh, jiggled the rusty sleigh bells still clinging to their brown leather strap, and giddy-upped to great adventures on the open road. Evenings, Grandpa and I sat on the porch swing- watching fireflies light up our night in nanoseconds.

While Grandpa was at work during the day, I mostly tried to stay out of Grandma’s way. Sometimes she kept me busy swatting flies and paying me a half a penny per fly. I guess I was on the honor system as to how many I actually killed. I really wanted that half a penny if it didn’t come out even, but she always rounded down, frugal lady that she was. If I had been good and not bothered her with lots of “silly questions,” she would sometimes reward me by allowing me to cross the road to get the mail. There was very little traffic on Rural Route 3, when I looked to my right I could see the neighboring farm down the road. When I looked to my left I could see the narrow ribbon of road uncurling up a small hill, dividing the cornfields. On one steaming hot afternoon with the promise of a frosty glass of hand squeezed lemonade if I went out for the mail, I ventured across the road to the mailbox.  And that’s when I saw something lying at the edge of the road in the gravel. It was about the size of goose egg and shaped like a capsule. The thing was enclosed in a membrane, the color a combination of brownish-red and bruised purple. I tapped it with the toe of my sneaker. Nothing. I looked around for a road kill that it might have been squeezed out of. Nothing. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I knew I’d better check the mail box and get back to the house before Grandma realized I was taking a long time. For some reason I wanted to keep my discovery to myself, like it was something I shouldn’t have seen. It was my secret find to ponder. I looked in the mailbox and among some bills was a letter from Grandma’s sister Grace. Good. That would keep her busy for a while and I might be able to sneak back across the road and gaze at my find.

After the letter was delivered and my lemonade was gulped down, I left Grandma fanning herself at the kitchen table reading her letter from Aunt Grace. I quietly closed the screen door in the living room and hurried to the gate. It creaked when I opened it, but Grandma’s hearing wasn’t very good so I wasn’t too worried. No cars. I ran across the road. Still there. Glistening in the sun. It seemed to be swelling up. Whatever was contained within straining at that thin membrane. I heard the screen door slam. Grandma shouted at me to get back across the road. When she asked what I was doing out there, I told her I thought I had dropped something. I’m not sure she bought it, but she was cooking dinner and wanted me to set the table. When Grandpa got home, I was tempted to show my find to him. Something stopped me. I never told anyone. I still don’t know why. 

I think it has to do with living in a family with secrets. We had apocryphal stories like other families, but we were never allowed to ask questions so the stories behind the stories were never told. There was always something missing, something always lurking in shadow. Maybe that’s why I was so drawn to this find in the road. It was my secret, not someone else’s. I didn’t ever have to tell anyone if I didn’t want to. Then I could be just like every one else in my family.

Rebekah for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Story of Wormy or How Mother Nature Gave Me a Gift

A few weeks ago while I was walking through the garden, I noticed we had a visitor to the herb bed. Climbing on the stalk of a tall dill plant was a black, green and yellow striped caterpillar. He was about the size of my little finger and he was industriously munching on the pungent plant. He paid me no mind and, reminiscent of the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, reared back the top third of his body to reach a dill bloom just out of his reach. I watched as the green stalk vanished into the chomping maw.

My first thought was, oh no, my dill. My second thought was, wow, what a beautiful little guy.  I called my housemates to come see the caterpillar and we all agreed he was quite handsome.  I took pictures and googled for “Black and yellow striped caterpillars” until I discovered our new friend would one day become a beautiful, black swallowtail butterfly.

I named him Wormy and each day I would check on my new little buddy.   He continued to voraciously enjoy the dill plant and we enjoyed watching him enjoy the dill plant.

One morning I went to check on wormy and he was not on the stalk of the dill plant. I rummaged around the other plants, thinking he might have become bored with dill but I could not find him anywhere.

Someone suggested that perhaps he was annoyed by the paparazzi that wouldn’t stop bothering him, so he had moved to a quieter stalk. That was a possibility, but I had concerns. He was a beauty and I’m sure he would have been considered tasty in some avian circles. I could think of a few furry friends that would have considered him a juicy morsel, as well.

I checked everywhere for the next few days, but there was no Wormy to be found. As summers do, the warm days moved on and as they did we had many other visitors to the garden.

The nuthatches came to continue the argument they had started the previous year. My husband and the broody pair disagreed on the proper location for them to build their nest. The birds were sure the garage ticked off every box of their “must haves in our new home”, list. My husband, acting as the building inspector, would condemn each of their renovation projects. Being a big mammal with opposable thumbs he always won the debate but he would often receive a dressing down from the very bitter male bird.

The bees rushed in to poke around in the blooms.  Many hummingbirds buzzed the new nectar feeder.  Each tiny Napoleon declared it their conquest and was more then willing to duel for its possession.

The rabbits seemed to agree that it was very kind of my husband to plant all of that lovely lettuce for them this year, and in appreciation they trimmed the portulaca blooms to help tidy up the garden. In this struggle of communication with the bunnies, my husband’s opposable thumbs were of no benefit. Final score, rabbits two--human, zero.

We had almost forgotten about Wormy, and then last week my cousin noticed a big black butterfly weaving it’s way around the flowers.

Could it be? Was it Wormy? The butterfly was a gorgeous, black swallowtail. Its body had the telltale black, green and yellow stripes but this amazing creature also had enormous velvety, black wings. They were spread wide and you could see orange dots circled in yellow chasing along their edges.  They glowed like stained glass windows held up to the light.  His swallowtails were long and pointed and elegant.  Our Wormy had transformed, this beauty was a wonder of wings and color and grace.

He visits the garden now but doesn’t seem to be interested in the dill anymore.  He prefers the purple flowers in his new winged state.  We enjoy his visits and often he is joined by other swallowtails, some yellow others like him. We always seem to know when it is our wormy that has paid us a visit. The paparazzi still annoy him and I…, I mean they, haven’t been able to get a good pictures of him yet.  Perhaps by summer's end.

Diana, for the Poplar Grove Muse