Anyone fortunate enough to have a century plant growing in their yard knows how spectacularly ferocious they look, with four-foot leaves lined with needle-sharp serrations with an inches-long needle at the end with the sole purpose of puncturing something, or someone. Their gray-green eminence is a solitary one-plant fortress. Considering whether its self-appointed role is offensive or defensive is a function of proximity. We who cultivate century plants believe they are beautiful, just at a respectful distance.
Denizens of the yard smaller than us find them a useful sanctuary. Anole lizards trespass with impunity, thus frustrating the natural impulse of ubiquitous feral cats to eat them.
Recently, I found Monarch caterpillars, after reaching maturity on nearby butterfly weeds, had somehow crawled over twenty feet through the grass to ascend what must have seemed to them to be dizzying heights, up a century plant’s outer leaves, to dangle there, looking like rock climbers scaling Devil’s Tower. Then they morphed into chrysalises and as a finale, launched their new careers as butterflies, as which they are customarily identified.
But there was a major problem. When the new butterflies emerged, they lacked traction on the leaf surface and cascaded like crumpled party napkins into the grass below.
Not good for butterflies. They have only a short time while their new wings retain their primitive circulation systems and deploy. As the wings assume their proper configuration and dry, their owners flex wing muscles, try a burst of fluttering. Much can go wrong if they lack needed space to shake them out flat.
Last week I offered a finger tip to one such derelict; it climbed on and calmly resumed its setting-up exercises. Half an hour of grass mowing was irretrievably lost before I passed my responsibilities on to a nearby oleander.
When I checked on it later, it was gone. The magic happened the next day.
I was passing its launch point when a Monarch fluttered by, then perched, facing me expectantly from the roof of a nearby car port. With “Thanks for your help. See what I can do now?” written all over it, it slowly spread its wings and closed them. Twice. Then it flew away, for keeps.
I am still a skeptic who demands proof, but not this time. Some deep part of my mind knew it was the one I helped, returning to share its successful launch with me. I have been unable to dismiss this conviction.
In the process, I have grasped some of what faith is, knowing something is true so profoundly that evidence is trivial. I thought what was called faith was just a willed decision to ingest some doctrine, largely through fear and/or guilt plus credulity.
I haven’t discarded my insistence on evidence. But for now, I believe in what happened between a butterfly and me. You’re welcome, Monarch. And thanks.