Spring is in the air. I can tell because butterflies are doing the wild thing around every corner. I don't know if the butterflies are aware of all the eyes watching them in their intimate moments; but the kids are sure aware of the butterflies. Student comments vary according to grade but pointing fingers and giggles accompany every sighting of butterfly love.
Butterfly and human reproduction are obvious to 5,6, 7, and 8 graders as they are currenlty taking sex ed in school. As boys and girls become more aware of their own bodies, they can't help but notice that butterflies have some of the same needs. Humans and insects are different as can be in some ways but we have more in common than I ever knew before I became a garden teacher.
Monarchs tend to fly around stuck together in wobbly and awkward flights. The Native King Kamehameha butterflies get attached and then remain completely still, frozen in reproduction, so you can finally see the beautiful irridescent under sides of their usually fluttering wings.
Two brothers watched in stone fascination for at least 10 minutes at one extra still, obviously attached pair. Maybe the boys were waiting to see how long the union lasted. Maybe they were just in awe of the butterfly's obvious skills. It takes a small miracle for human boys to stay that focused when they are outside and free to run. I came back after 30 minutes, and the butterfly pair was still attached, boys still watching, maybe even taking notes.
After the fluttery mating mission is complete, butterflies detach and fly away from each other. I try to detect a skip in their flight, but both seem stable. The butterflies go their separate directions, uncommitted and free to go back to the single life of suckling their choice in flower nectar.
We've watched mama butterflies lay an egg on our Makalapua, which is Catepillar Day Care Central. A single, freckle-sized egg on a leaf yeilds a baby catepillar with an endless supply of munchable food. Leaf breast-feeding; no stretch marks or morning feedings, mommy butterflies have fulfilled their responsibility after that egg-laying. I wonder if the mamas know about the throngs of little girls who coo over and care for their offspring. "Oh, little Pilli you are so sweet." The girls gather leaves for the baby catepillars, name them all, and even bury those that don't make it.
There is wisdom and beauty in butterfly reproduction. Even the youngest child knows something intimate is happening when a joined pair of monarchs twitter by. The most akward pre-pubescent youth can find solace in knowing that those sudden body changes are as natural as butterflies sailing the wind.
My decade was made today in one simple statement. From a honest and thriving 8th grader whom was front row for my first attempts at a sustainablity-focused garden class when she was in fifth grade. Just three years ago she was tall as my chest with wide eyed questions about clear-cutting and clean water. Now just around the corner from eighth grade graduation and at least a foot taller, we had a few quiet moments together, our base coat brushes painting in restful rhythms. She asked where I went to college and how I met my husband. I told her the charming and simple story of meeting my man, having our child, and moving from Oregon to Hawaii with a two-month old Ocean.
Almost as an afterthought she said the statement that makes all the low pay, sweat-streaked hours I spend tending gardens with kids in the blazing Kona sun worthwhile. She said, "I wouldn't know about the environment if it wasn't for you."
I know she has had environmental-related lessons in other classes but the earth focus of garden class obviously struck her. The words of a Buddist monk ricocheted through my mind: "If you made just one person see another possibility than you have served the universe well."
When I am going through hard times, I have the words of one girl who summed up my whole purpose in life with one non-chalant, mind-bending comment. The student has the garden-borne glory of environmental awareness to take with her always. Together, we change the world.
Ms Krista says:
Everyday encounters with real garden sprites; tortuous panorama of the surf; old-growth collards; machete lessons; mantis rehab; pesto pasta. Days as a public school garden teacher on the Big Island are filled with unexpected gems of wisdom and infinite inspirations. Introducing my life as a school garden teacher...