Last Friday at the Navarino Wildlife Area: the young were coming of age.
The monarch caterpillars steadily devouring the small milkweed plants looked every bit like zebras last week at a half an inch as they’ll look next week at an inch and a half. Fully mature, they’ll be, of course, something altogether different.
For two fat tadpoles, somehow steady in the current flowing into a culvert, the transition is gradual: now they have the heads of full-grown frogs, while their nether halves resemble eels. Swampy centaurs for whom there is no one to spin a fantastic myth of their genesis: they are unperturbed by large, shiny minnows rocketing by or by a shoal of smaller, coal-colored minnows, alternately still in the rushing water, but then, frightened by my shadow, veering away as one.
The families of geese, still intact, swim stately in the flowage into which the culvert drains. The once tiny, fluffy brown young have become miniature adults with their long black necks and heads and white bibs.
Butterflies having cracked open their chrysalises have joined the dragonflies who have crawled out of swamps and their old brittle selves, and all of them are flying in profusion: the butterflies busy pollinating or taking time to spread their wings on the warm railroad bed stone or on gravel and brimstone roads. As butterflies, they’re only a week old. But they’re old souls; they’ve seen a thing or two from an entirely different perspective. They’re seeking mates: the plain cocoa-colored little wood satyrs are the friskiest of all, tumbling together above tall stalks of yellow flowers that had not been blooming the week before. So it was with white admirals, red-spotted purples, monarchs, viceroys, and orange fritillaries or coppers whose names I have yet to learn. They all showed up this week. At the glorious flowering of the year.
No happy kairos for the snappers, though. I came across six caches of their round white eggs that had been detected somehow by raccoons or skunks and eaten raw, sucked from a slit made by a sharp tooth or claw. The shells, licked clean, are curling up and lie strewn about the ravaged burrows. I found one egg intact among the dozens that had been, one night not long ago, secretly secreted into burrows somehow dug a half a foot deep into the sand and then covered with care. The occupation, I imagine, of an entire night’s struggle of a creature feeling safer lounging on logs in the flowage where they’re able to disappear having heard sounds even as unsuspicious as boots in grass. All those young lives unrealized. All but one egg was devoured, which I not-too-hopefully buried as I had found it. Were it to ever hatch, I imagine the hatchling being snatched away by attentive hawks or otters looking for a meal for their own young to dismember.
Despite having earned the Reptiles and Amphibians Merit Badge in my youth long ago, I had never seen a clutch of turtle eggs in the wild. On the day I first saw one, I saw six, all of them destroyed. Which should not have surprised or grieved me so, because I know, having grown up on hot brimstone playgrounds, how uninhibited untutored young are at devouring the souls of their weaker peers or of those who appear Different or of Others with different colored skin. Any difference it seemed, brought out the worst in us. A heavy boy, whose ill-fitting clothes reeked of a week of sweat and cigarette smoke and who was cursed with the surname Crawley, was mercilessly despised by us. One day drunk with the power of our numbers dominating one, we chanted his name; we made a parade behind him as he returned from school from lunch, having not lived far away, having no provisions for free lunches back when the poor were left to fend for themselves.
There are free lunches now and freedom still to hate, but the young coming of age now seem so much more likely to congregate with friends of all colors as, in Paradise, the butterflies do: white admirals, red-spotted purples, tiger swallowtails, orange monarchs, coppers, viceroys and fritillaries, lovely brown wood satyrs, who are all Different, who are all colors and sizes, who, even though they are not made in the image of their Creator, are all beautiful.