Is everycreepingthing still a blog? Gee whizz, you could have fooled me, I guess it is!
Although historically experiencing a degree of hibernation each winter, recent inactive seasons may have led to some uncertainty about whether Instagram has fully replaced this outlet. Well, rest assured we are awakening from our slumber, earlier than ever before, and we are ready to learn!
Yesterday was almost 70 degrees here in Maryland. It is kind of nuts, and no guarantee that we won’t yet have a blizzard, but I am so relieved. I had forgotten how wonderful it smells to sleep with the window open, and feel sunshine on my skin.
I am also happy to report that despite growing knowledge about our natural world, this time of year is still filled with eternal rites of passage that I somehow have never even noticed happening before my eyes. Yesterday in my little patch of woods the Red Shouldered hawks that nest there yearly were putting on a crazy show, taking off into the air and flying faster than I’ve seen, in giant gyres, calling and calling their loud keer keer keer! They did this about every 20 minutes. The woodpeckers were out selecting trees for nest holes, and the bluebirds were out hunting for holes made by others. But what I was taken with, in particular, were the little tiny insects that had come out everywhere, ready to rejoice in the warm air. How do so many of them even exist? There must have been a thousand species, and for so much of my life I barely regarded them, or even thought, in careless moments, that they were pests.
I have been dabbling in aquatic insects recently, and am generally held in awe by the Insect Class. It is so alien, so varied, so big that we will never ever imagine all that it contains. This winter, I have been wanting to tell you, I have found so many Giant Silkmoth cocoons. How did I learn to see these, which I would in fact have been excited by any time in the past? Suddenly they stick out to me from across the road. I would like to say they are everywhere, but that isn’t quite true. In upland roadsides and edges of suburbanizing rural areas that I frequent they are actually pretty common. They are alive, sometimes if you touch them they will rustle back at you, it is wild.
A cocoon may be out in the open, but so many insects spend their winters in the water, underground, in eggs, ok, but also as a caterpillar, or as an adult! It makes sense to me that those who pass the winter in a frozen adult form are often the first we see making an appearance come spring. Still, a butterfly in February?! Last year I saw one Eastern Comma on March 1st. Eastern Commas, representatives of the Polygonia genus, wait out spring as butterflies. This is hard for me to imagine, a butterfly crawling into some space and crumpling down, chilling to the core, holding still all winter while well clad mammals pass by, ignorant of the silent lives they trod over with each step. Beneath your boot, a butterfly?!
It isn’t necessary to imagine, but remains like something from a fairy tale, that yesterday such a butterfly flew up from the place I was about to step, off the path in the middle of a forest patch. It is a common species, and it can be seen all over the Eastern U.S., most often in the woods, where it loves to drink sap- so much more delicious, to them, than the pollen the flowers will offer. Perhaps a more abundant choice for the earliest of early spring butterflies.
What I saw was a dark butterfly with a light edge on its wing. It flew straight up and then around and around me in a slow looping circle, settling on the ground somewhere slightly out of reach. It was a Mourning Cloak. It seems to me a somber name for a harbinger of spring. The thawing of the ground in early spring though is the traditional time for people to bury their winter dead. Perhaps these butterflies would appear in the air as shovels dug into the dirt. Pardon this morbid explanation, I made it up, but I think it might be true. For me this butterfly was a symbol of hope. I try to love the winter, I have enjoyed my cocoon walks, but it only becomes possible when you forget how good spring is. And once again I remember.
Mourning Cloak, image from Google.