Friday, September 26, 2008

Book Report

On several spiritually-focused listserves that I participate in, people have been sharing titles of books they are reading or want to read.

A new friend introduced herself by giving me a short reading list she felt was relevent to my situation, and another friend left a message on my answering machine tonight saying, "Do some reading!"

Not right now, not in my least not the sort of reading these folks suggest. It just isn't the season.

Books bound of paper and carboard and printer's ink belong to other seasons--not autumn, not spring. To the depths of winter, perhaps...or the bowels of August, when any effort greater than the leisurely turning of pages is contraindicated.

So I alternately ignore, laugh or procrastinate such directives from others this time of year.

I'm also, in general, a lot more given to writing than to poring over tomes, whether ancient or modern. I tend to read selectively, a few books that come into my life from respected individuals, and to re-read the same books repeatedly, wringing a new and different significance from them each time through. Some people roll their eyes at this habit; they read things once and pass them along, never turning those same pages again. Whatever.

But on second, thought, I AM reading a lot these days...the things that are written in the natural world around me on the farm and in the landscape outside the windows of my bus. The "news" hinted at in the title of this blog.

Recently, I've been reading a favorite book over again, more thoroughly than ever before. It's the fascinating epic journey of some soil becoming a milkweed plant, and then being transformed into monarch butterflies by a herd of striped, tentacled caterpillars.

Two years before moving to Lawrence, the same semester I designedPinwheel Farm as an imaginary 20-acre vegetable farm for a final project for a Vegetable Crop Production class at KSU under Bill Lamont, I weaseled my way into a senior/graduate-level course entitled Insecticide Properties and Laws without having taken ANY of the prerequisites (Entomology and Organic Chemistry)! A good lesson in the power of simply asking for what you want...also a demonstration of the persuasive power of enthusiasm. Professors are generally intrigued by the novel idea of someone taking an obscure and challenging class when it isn't required for them in any way.

It has almost, but not quite, inspired me to take up the study of entomology, just to better understand the details of the metamorphosis of caterpillar into crysalis into butterfly. The little that we "reviewed" in the class, as the foundation for the destructive action of certain insecticides, has stayed vividly with me all these years.

And though I have watched crysalises hatch many times, watched the limp, watery wings be unfurled and pumped up and solidified into brittle banners--I have never before watched a caterpillar turn into a crysalis.

Actually, I didn't quite watch the whole thing. The tableau was the garden in front of the Haskell Indian Nations University Cultural Center and Museum. On days when I'm driving the bus, I get to stop there for a few minutes every hour and 20 minutes. So it was a time-lapse sort of watching.

But one round, there was a caterpillar looking large and lazy. And then it was hanging by its hind feet on the heavy mid-rib of the leaf, arching its neck to and fro. Next, its feet seemed to be bound to the leaf with a "silk" binding, and it hung immobile in a "J" shape, first looking like a caterpillar fishhook and then looking somehow different, more contracted, subtlely less striped.

Then it was a smooth green case studded with gleaming golden jewels.

It hung there, unchanging, for more than a week. Then one day there was an orangey glow just visible through the transluscent green case, veined in black: the nascent furled wings of the butterfly.

The next day, only a transparent shred of the case remained, swaying lightly in the breeze. The receptionist at the museum (who had been watching the caterpillars' progress with me, after I alerted her to their presence when I first saw them. Miracles are even more fun when they're shared with someone else who's excited about them.) rose from her seat even as I reached to pull open the museum door, and rushed out of the office towards me. "It's gone! I saw it fly away!"

Together we examined the remaining younger crysalis that we'd found a day later than the first. And she pointed out another she'd spotted, deep in a tussock of graceful prairie grass nearby. Miracles in progress.

Without fully understanding the physiology of it, barely able to accept the fact of it, w hat I learned in the advanced entomology class is what goes on during this remarkable transformation. In lay terms, it amounts to this:

The entire innards of the crysalis dissolve into amorphous goo, at a cellular level, and then that amorphous goo re-forms into new kinds of cells to shape an entirely new digestive system, circulatory system, muscles, exoskeleton, eyes, antennae, wings, wing scales, etc. Every detail of the caterpillar is gone. Every detail of the butterfly is brand new. All that is left of the original caterpillar is the chemical building blocks, and the DNA.

And that whole process is carried out automatically from within the crysalis, over the course of a very sort time.

Mindboggling. Simply mindboggling.

It's one of my favorite books, this process of metamorphosis. I refer to it often in my thoughts, and even in my telling of my own personal transformations.

Amorphous goo. What a great metaphor for the chaos that sometimes overtakes my own life. In the midst of that "goo"phase, I'm sure the caterpillar/butterfly has no idea what's going on. It doesn't even exactly have a brain to think about it with! All it can do is surrender to the process, with some sort of understanding that everything is proceeding according to the proper order, even thought the present moment really manifests nothing but amorphous goo.

I'm in such a "goo" phase in my life (and the life of the farm) right now. Housemates are moving out of the main farmhouse, squatters leaving the Granary House; how can financial ends possibly ever meet? Friends and allies have moved or defected, where will my help come from? Key machines have broken down in mysterious ways; my own body betrays me. Mental, health, logistical and financial barriers spring up at every turn. (Never mind whatever is going on in the outside world, writhing in pangs of war and economic collapse and political posturing....)

It is a time for resting in faith...hard, but sometimes really the only thing I can do...

...When my life turns to amorphous goo.


bellananda said...

i just have to tell you that you are an amazing writer. i can't tell you how many of your posts leave me shaking my head, thinking "exactly! that's exactly it!" and wishing that i'd were so eloquent when i try to express such thoughts.

kindred spirits, methinks. thank you for your blog. :)

Natalya said...

Thank you for commenting. I receive so little feedback, sometimes I wonder if anyone's out there.

I am hungry for kindred spirits! Please keep in touch, keep commenting, feel free to challenge or question or share your own experience, strength and hope!


Chris Fitz said...

Natalya, thanks for the observations, articulations and shared wonder!