I don’t know that it happened this way, but I do know that it’s true, that long ago and far away—or more likely, recently and quite nearby, high up in the mountains on a black cherry tree—an egg was laid on a leaf.
And in the light of the full moon, out of that egg hatched a little brownish caterpillar with a white markings that would look, to any bird who might chance by, perhaps like bird droppings.
The caterpillar’s name was Homer.
Homer looked around, in surprise and wonder, to find himself alive in the world.
“Better eat your egg casing, little friend,” said a black and spiky caterpillar nearby.
Homer did just that, and then turned to look at his new friend.
“Welcome to the world!” said the other caterpillar, whose name was Alex. “It’s delicious—here, try some of this leaf!”
Together the two caterpillars munched on leaves that spring, through rain and sun, sunrises and sunsets.
They laughed together at the antics of baby birds and hid together under leaves that the black spiky caterpillar had collected, so that parent birds could not catch them. Alex taught Homer all he needed to know about life on a leaf: how to stay safe, how to munch, how to enjoy the feeling of the wind stirring the tree and the sun slowly warming the mountains each morning. Together they gazed each night up at the beautiful moon.
But one day, the black spiky caterpillar started something totally new and different.
“What are you DOING?” asked Homer, as Alex carefully put down silk on the underside of a twig in the newest collection of leaves and began hanging upside down.
“Making a chrysalis!” said Alex.
“You’ll see.” And over the next couple of days, in the shelter of the leaves, the spiky black caterpillar shifted and shed its skin and became a strange lumpy brown thing, hanging there, not making any conversation.
What could this mean?
For a week Homer munched quietly by himself, watching the strange brown hanging thing that used to be his friend, wondering and worrying as the strange lumpy brown thing shifted in color and size and pattern.
Then, one day, out of the strange lumpy brown chrysalis pushed an even stranger new creature.
Homer watched as this new creature pumped blood into its black and white and bright orange wings—WINGS?!—and unfurled a strange new mouth.
“WHAT?” cried Homer. “WHO?”
The new creature turned to look at him.
“Oh little friend,” it said, “It’s still me! Alex! The one you laughed and hid and munched leaves and watched the moon with! But now I’m a butterfly—an Admiral butterfly, to be specific,” Alex said proudly.
“But you CHANGED!” cried Homer. “You were as constant as the moon, and now you have CHANGED.”
Alex smiled gently. “Oh friend,” they said, “We’re supposed to change! Why, even the moon is different night to night. Sometimes we see all of it, sometimes only a sliver, and sometimes we can’t see it at all.”
“But I don’t want to change,” lamented Homer, scared and sad.
“Change is part of who we are.” Said the butterfly who was Alex, “and now our friendship must change too. I must fly away in search of flowers and other butterflies, and eventually I will fly south to stay warm in the winter. You must continue to eat and grow and stay safe from the birds, but you will change too. Just remember: you are loved, and whatever your body does, you are a beautiful friend and I’m glad I know you.”
And with that Alex took to the sky.
All that summer Homer the little brown caterpillar ate and grew and hid and watched the moon—which did indeed look a little different every night. Homer became a bigger brown caterpillar. His white splotch turned into two little eye shapes, so he looked like a fearsome little snake, and no birds ate him. Day by day, the seasons moved towards Autumn.
Finally, Homer found his own safe spot to hang upside down, and shifted into a chrysalis. This was scary, but Homer remembered his friend and was brave.
All winter the chrysalis hung there, safe and still.
In the spring, Homer felt himself stir, felt his new body shift once again, and wiggled free to find himself with a new mouth and different shape and WINGS – wings that were yellow and black and blue and orange and glorious.
“Oh my!,” said Homer the Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail, gazing at himself in wonder and delight. And then he took off into the sky, up towards the bright moon, bold as a bird, up the broad sweep of Spruce Knob.