By Meredith Clark
I finished this story shortly after Easter. It was inspired by the theme we adopted for Holy Week. We had originally planned Holy Week to be centered around outdoor garden preparations, outdoor cleaning and planting, as a community. Due to world events, we changed the plan and decided to focus on the image of a butterfly. This image included the entire life cycle of a butterfly. I was inspired by this idea and wrote this short story as part of my Storytelling assignment during my first year at Camphill Academy. I was able to present this story to the Camphill Hudson community via Zoom on Ascension. With assistance from Maria McLaughlin and Chelsea Anderson we were able to add chimes as a musical accompaniment and a sign language interpretation.
In a small village nestled in the Hudson Valley of upstate New York lived a gardener and his wife. Their property was filled with flower beds and vegetable gardens, which the gardener took much pleasure in caring for. On the edge of the land stood a small orchard of cherry trees next to a happy little brook. The wife loved all the flowers in the garden, but the orchard was her favorite spot to visit. She spent many hours sitting by the brook, admiring the cherry trees. She was quite taken by the scent and pink colors from the spring blossoms. And looked forward to harvesting the cherries from the trees in the late summer.
The gardener was quite connected to the land, and the natural world around him. Although the work required in caring for the property was great, nothing else brought him so much joy. And it pleasured him in knowing that he could offer the gift of flowers, fruits, and vegetables to his wife.
One summer day, while walking in the orchard, the wife noticed a small raised growth on a leaf of one of the cherry trees. This concerned her terribly as she feared the tree was suffering from a disease. She brought her concerns to the gardener. On inspecting the tree, the gardener reassured his wife that the tree was healthy, and she should not worry. The following week, the wife noticed that the cherry tree no longer had the growth of its leaf, but instead, she saw a small worm eating the leaves on the tree. This was even more alarming to the wife than the growth she had previously noticed, and she quickly brought it to the attention of the gardener. The gardener said to his wife. “No worries, good wife! There are many trees in the orchard and many leaves on each tree. We can certainly share some of them with this little worm. As we live, so must this creature.” The wife was quite unhappy with the gardener’s response. And, if he would do nothing to protect the trees, then she would take this task on herself. The next day, while working in the flower beds, the gardener noticed his wife heading towards the orchard armed with large spray cans.
He quickly intercepted her and asked, “Good wife, what is it that you have in those cans?” She responded, “If you do nothing to rid the cherry tree of that worm, then I will! I plan on killing that ugly pest with this spray.”
The gardener responded, “Good wife, that worm will be gone as soon as its belly is full, it can only eat so much. Please do not spray our gardens! How can you then harvest the fruit from the trees if they are covered in poison?”
The wife reluctantly agreed not to use the spray and prayed that the “ugly worm” would leave her orchard.
For the next few weeks, the wife watched as the ugly little worm munched on the leaves of the tree, and grew into quite a plump little being. The wife was sure that the worm would eat and eat until no leaves remained on the tree. One day, the wife noticed that the little worm remained still on a branch. It looked as if it would die and was slowly curling up into itself. The following day, while visiting the orchard, the wife noticed that where she saw the worm last, a dried-up projection remained hanging from the branch.
“Alas!” exclaimed the wife, “You have finally died, you ugly little worm, and in your self-made coffin, you shall remain.”
And after some time, the wife forgot about the little worm. A couple of weeks later, during the time of the midsummer, the wife was sitting in her garden. All the flowers the gardener had planted were in bloom. She sat out in the sun, admiring the colors and fragrance of the season as she sipped her afternoon tea. Suddenly a beautiful butterfly appeared. It danced on the gentle breeze and visited all the flowers in the garden. The wife sat in the garden for hours watching the butterfly flutter about and sipping nectar from the flowers. She was captivated by its beauty. For several days the butterfly returned to the garden, and every day the wife sat watching it. The daily visits brought her much happiness. It would often perch on her knee or balance itself on the tip of her toe as she sat.
One day the butterfly landed on her shoulder. It stayed there for a bit, and then it softly whispered in her ear. “Good woman, don’t you remember me?” it asked. “Yes, of course,” the wife replied, “you have been visiting my garden for days now, fluttering about the flowers and dancing on the breeze. I have so enjoyed your visits!”
“Yes, I have spent several days in your garden, but don’t you remember me from when I lived in the orchard?” said the butterfly.
“I am afraid not,” replied the wife. “I have never seen you in my orchard.” “But you have,” whispered the butterfly.
“You spoke to me often.” “I do not remember,” said the wife.
The butterfly replied, “you used to call me, ugly little worm.”
The wife sat in astonishment. “You can’t be that ugly worm! Look at how lovely you are. And I watched that ugly worm die and wither into a carcass.”
“Good woman. You mistook me for a worm, but in fact, I was a caterpillar. I did die in a sense. And what you spoke of as my coffin was my chrysalis. I hid away in my chrysalis, where I remained safe and quiet for some time. The stillness allowed me to transform, and then I was born again into what you see before you now.”
The wife was amazed.
“I want to offer my thanks to both you and the gardener,” said the butterfly. “You allowed me to be born and then be born again in your gardens. You offered your trees and flowers to me, and in return, I pollinated them so they could live on, and their children could flourish. But alas, this will be my last day in this world. I have fulfilled my destiny.” “Oh?” asked the wife, ” but where will you go.”
“My life in this form is over. I hope you will offer the same hospitality you showed me to my children.” With that being said, the butterfly flew up into the air.
The wife watched as the butterfly flew higher and higher and higher into the sky until she could see it no more.
The wife told the story of her conversation with the butterfly, to the gardener. The gardener smiled softly as his wife explained what happened.
The wife asked the gardener, “Are you not surprised by such a story?”
“I am not” replied the gardener, “nature is full of these kinds of magic.”
“But why didn’t you tell me about such magic?” She cried.
“This magic cannot be taught, nor can it be learned,” he said. “This kind of magic must be experienced.”
The gardener smiled lovingly at his wife. And she smiled back.
The wife often thought of the butterfly as she sat in her garden.
There came another day when the wife was again in her orchard. She noticed a small worm-like creature and knew, this time, that it was a caterpillar. She did not curse or refer to the caterpillar as an ugly worm. For she had learned, this creature needed time for its true beauty to be revealed.
The wife leaned in close to the caterpillar and gently whispered, “Welcome! My beautiful garden butterfly.”