by Eliana Osborn
My son’s rain jacket is laid across the back of the sofa. In the split second before calling, Come hang this up, I notice something yellow on the sleeve. Closer up, something fuzzy, perhaps a flower bud knocked off while running by. I lift the yellow cylinder with a piece of paper from the computer. A caterpillar, braving a stormy wet Fairbanks, Alaska afternoon.
Four or five centimeters long, the caterpillar doesn’t move. It looks so much like the discarded end of a pipe cleaner that I hesitate calling my boys over to see it. But the yellow fuzz around a thick black trunk is so intriguing.
Come quick and see.
Cole, five, and Owen, two, squat at the kitchen table with all the lights blazing. Once the caterpillar is lying still, he lifts up his head. And not just his head he lifts half his body, like a horse rearing up on its back legs. It seems an impossible feat of abdominal muscles as this creature scents the air for danger before lying back down.
Then he’s off, inching forward in waves, feet hidden but clearly present. He travels a fair distance while my toddler squeals in delight. Before the caterpillar can fall off the edge, I have it crawl onto another slip of paper and move it back to the starting point. If “Fuzzy” notices the Sisyphusian trek with no forward progress, he or she is too polite to be bothered.
For 30 minutes my usually-wild boys sit still, fascinated by this tiny find of nature. It has been a summer of mosquitoes and moose; a caterpillar is something else entirely. We observe and discuss like scientists:
What do you think he feels like to touch?
What colors do you see?
What does he eat?
Mom, I think those are his eyes off to the sides of his head, Cole whispers reverently.
After a time I suggest we sketch the caterpillar to remember him. It seems more appropriate to this naturalist moment than a photograph. Cole’s unable to use scale, insisting on drawing the bug actual size. Owen sketches lines in a spiral, tells me it is a caterpillar climbing a mountain.
We don’t pick up toys before bed this night. We don’t read or sing, You Are my Sunshine. We take the caterpillar outside and leave the paper on the porch. Ten minutes later we check again Cole’s worried the friend may have fallen through the slats and find the caterpillar already making its way up the side of the house.
Eliana Osborn currently lives with her family on the US-Mexico border. She works as a freelance writer and avid volunteer mom. Connect with her at? Eliana Osborn or via Twitter @ElianaOEliana.