Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Dead things and live things

I remember one or two incidents when I was a very small boy, and we were typically on vacation, and I encountered something dead, a small animal. Naturally I was enthusiastic and delighted. I wanted to check on the dead thing every day. What would happen, though, is that the next time we went past the spot (and I naturally checked for the dead thing), the dead thing would be gone. 'Hey?!' I was puzzled. This happened more than once. I remember one time when it seemed to me that my father must have removed the dead thing. I asked him if he had, and he denied it.

Looking back, I understand the impulse. You don't want your kid getting sick, and you don't like the hassle of continually trying to divert them away from this dead thing that they find so fascinating.

So when we were in Hawaii and my son encountered a dead, dehydrated leathery corpse of a frog expired atop a storm drain gate, my impulse was to quietly get rid of it when my son was not looking. But then I remembered the experience I'd had, with the dead things that had vanished. It's not as though one course or the other is right or wrong, but I decided not to dispose of the frog. And so, every single time we walked down the driveway, my son pointed out the mummy frog. Neither right nor wrong, but his memory will be different.

As for live things, at a certain part of the year when we were kids, my mom would notice butterflies in the air. We would inspect the weeds by the roadside for caterpillars, then pull one of the weeds containing caterpillars and put it inside a box with a plastic-wrap window and some air holes in the back. The caterpillars would eat the weed, make crysalids, and turn into monarch butterflies, which we would release on the day that they hatched.

Things have changed. Now the box is a special mesh bag, and the caterpillars come in the mail, in sealed plastic containers with a gummy food paste at the bottom. After the larvae make crysalids on the lids of the plastic jars, your mommy tapes the lids to the top of the mesh bag. They're Painted Lady butterflies, not monarchs. Then they hatch, and the kids let them go. Actually, we haven't yet let them go, since we are waiting for one or two more to hatch.

I have seen an imperial butterfly fluttering around our back yard. But you know, I don't even know if this is the right temperature or season for the painted ladies. I assume it is, since Spring reigns outdoors right now. But I am not sure, since the larvae came in the mail, and we could, conceivably, be releasing the butterflies in Alaska in January. That whole question is resolved when you recruit the caterpillars from weeds growing alongside the road.
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