When I was younger, I moved from Belgium to the Midwest, experiencing a change in my cultural landscape, as well as a quite literal one. The bluebells of the woods were traded for the wild violets of open plains, rainy hills replaced by prairie, and the roundedly timid European Robins switched for their more lanky and outgoing counterparts. Although, luckily for me, the bright and cheery dandelions remained a constant. So maybe, it was only natural that I became fascinated with one of North America’s more iconic and eye-catching fauna.
I was eleven in the muggy heat of an Illinoisan summer when what would later be termed “the project” began. I had recently become a 4-H club member, the quintessential rural American activity, and a certified gardener had asked if anyone was interested in documenting the life cycle of monarch butterflies through photography. I eagerly leapt at the opportunity, receiving two eggs, each neatly laid on a plucked milkweed leaf, and the knowledge on how raise them, the very next afternoon.
I took photos of the eggs everyday, waiting expectantly, until finally, two thin, gray, worm-like caterpillars were revealed, somehow managing to be even smaller than the eggs they hatched from. Gingerly, using the soft bristles of a paintbrush and the crash course I was given on how to raise them, I scooted the caterpillars onto their fresh leaves, before taking photo after photo of this strange miracle that had just occurred in the family living room. I suppose I had learned about the life cycle of a butterfly before in school, but here it was, happening before my very eyes, the beauty of something so seemingly lifeless hatch into this new, wriggling creature.
Needless to say, I was hooked. Between my relentless snappings of the camera, I checked out all the books from the school library about monarchs, ferociously devouring information at a rather alarming rate. As I waited (probably a bit too impatiently) for two bright orange butterflies to emerge, I continued to read and learn all about monarchs, consuming knowledge at a rate only rivaled by an expectant parent-to-be.
On the day they emerged, slowly, then all at once, alien-like with wet, crumpled wings and a bloated abdomen, dripping fluid, I was thrilled. Over the course of a few hours, they stretched their wings, drying off and straightening them out, looking less like something out of a sci-fi novel. The sharp, hooked claws on the end of their spindly legs pricked my fingers before they took off, the orange stained glass wings of a Gothic cathedral contrasting with the brilliant blue backdrop of the sky, leaving for new horizons.
Part of the reasons why I became so enthralled with those butterflies was because to some extent, I could relate to those little caterpillars that changed to become fragile-winged butterflies, only to somehow still manage to migrate thousands of miles. Those monarch butterflies had captivated me, sparking a greater curiosity for everything around me, wherever in the world that might be.