LEGACY OF FREEDOM
Once upon a time their lived a caterpillar in a beautiful, quiet, serene, rural environment. The birds sang, the crickets chirped, the frogs croaked and let's face it everybody seemed happy. It may have been a little boring but that was okay because then no one had to worry about any dramas. No tense situations. No differences of opinion. Not anything much of anything at all really.
This particular caterpillar was quite content with the way its life was going. Just sitting in the tree munching away on the leaves and contemplating the scenery. Quite happy to respond when spoken to by the other creatures but not really caring one way or the other what they did with themselves. Sort of a ho-hum existence really but it didn't know that. And as the old saying goes 'ignorance is bliss'. Or was that 'what you don't know can't hurt you'?
Anyway this caterpillar did have the occasional thought about the blandness of the leaves that it was eating, about the fact that it had only ever seen what the ground looked like from up in the tree and that the only creatures it talked to were the close neighbours that actually resided in the tree also. But these moments of discontent usually passed quickly and painlessly and it was able to get on with the business of making sure it didn't die of hunger or the need to camouflage itself when the occasional predator came into view. However one day quite soon, though unbeknownst to the caterpillar, all this was going to change.
This particular day dawned like any other. There was nothing whatsoever to mark it as significant in any way. The sun shone as warm as ever and the spring air smelt wonderfully of all the new flowers in bloom. An idyllic day to munch on some of those new leaves that were sprouting further up in the tree. That was of course if the caterpillar could be bothered making the effort to climb up that far. Never mind the decision didn't have to be made in a hurry and the day was but young.
Eventually the caterpillar decided to have its little adventure and raise its position to loftier heights to where the said tasty new shoots were growing. Bit of a treat really! Not everyday that the tree sprouted new leaves. Come to think of it spring was a rather special time of the year.
Now this caterpillar was totally minding its own business. Just chewing meditatively away enjoying the good old mundane processes of life. You know, eating, the sunshine, the little things like stretching and burping. Next thing you known the poor little thing was almost performing other bodily functions due to the arrival of a huge big black bird which flew down and plonked itself right down on the branch next to the caterpillar. If you know anything about caterpillars at all you'll probably realise that birds have a tendency to go around eating them. In fact one of the daily chores of caterpillars is to make sure that birds don't notice them.
Well there wasn't much could be done about it now. No use in hiding because this particular bird was watching the caterpillar with very close attention. Head tipped to the side and its bright bird eye staring unblinkingly at the stupefied and petrified caterpillar. Better to put on a brave face and hope for the best. With its figurative fingers crossed the caterpillar cleared its throat and was about to start some pleasant small talk when the bird said something instead.
"You don't have to stay a caterpillar forever you know."
This stunned the poor caterpillar because this sort of concept had never entered its head before let alone been expressed out loud to it by something that would normally have liked to of eaten it rather than begin a conversation. Being a little lost of wits for a moment it stammered out a reply.
"Ex - excuse me? I'm not s-sure I understand."
The bird just put on his most knowing look and repeated his statement. "You heard me. I said that you don't have to remain a caterpillar forever."
This was very confusing for the poor caterpillar.
" Okay if I don't have to stay a caterpillar then whatever else am I supposed to be? I mean you can't just go around changing into whatever or whomever you want. Can you? I mean that would be awfully confusing. I mean . . . well wouldn't it?"
Again the bird just held that knowing look in his eye and explained.
"You could turn into a butterfly you know. That's what most caterpillars turn into. A beautiful big butterfly."
This caterpillar was not a stupid caterpillar as far as caterpillars go. Been around a bit even if it was only in the confines of the tree. But as far as it could recall it had never come across anything that gave it an idea of what a butterfly was. A little afraid of showing its ignorance it still decided to ask the obvious.
"What is a butterfly?"
"A butterfly is a beautiful creature that holds the colour of the rainbows in its wings and glides gracefully in the air, feeding on ambrosia and nectar as it flits from moment to moment like thoughts in the spring. It is a joy to watch and as free and as elusive as the ideas that slip through your mind."
The bird had become a little poetic with this description but the caterpillar got the general drift and was quite caught up in the idea of becoming a butterfly by the time he had finished.
"How do I go about becoming a butterfly? I mean if it's not a secret or anything. I think I should like to change. To view life from a different perspective. It should be wonderful to fly I would imagine. Is it wonderful to fly? You'd know I suppose, having wings and all."
The bird looked the caterpillar up and down, well as far as one can with a caterpillar seeing as they are horizontal after all. He seemed to give his thoughts grave consideration before he answered.
"Yes there is something to being able to fly. A certain elevation one might say. A freedom. The ability to be able to go places that others can't. Takes a certain responsibility you know. Have to let them know what's in those other places."
The caterpillar had become quite comfortable talking to the bird by this time. Well at least he didn't feel that he was going to get eaten anyway.
"That sounds logical. How do I manage to become a butterfly?"
The bird ruffled his shiny black feathers and scraped his beak against the branch he was on. He brought his bright eye down towards the caterpillar who did its best not to shrink back under the unblinking stare.
"Normally the process is quite a natural one. A caterpillar creates a chrysalis around itself and after a certain period of time, wah-la, a butterfly emerges. Now I did say normally. You for some reason seem to be resisting the natural instinct to proceed with your evolution process. I feel that the transformation process for yourself is going to take a bit of work on your part. I shall tell you what needs to be done but after that it's up to you. What do you say to this?"
The caterpillar, if it could have, would have scratched its head. After all this it was so perplexed and nonplussed that it was at a loss for words but it made a brave attempt at an answer anyway.
"Um. Um? Okay?"
"Very well then. There are three things that you will have to undertake to reach this metamorphosis. The first will be to plant a seed from a small tree that grows down by the water's edge. You will recognise it by the red colour of its leaves. When you have planted the seed you will need to water the ground that you have put it into and then you will sleep next to it until morning. To ensure that the magic properties of the seed are able to function you will also need to plant this seed on a new moon. When you wake in the morning the seed should have grown into a tree like the one that you took the seed from but on this tree you will see a fruit hanging. It will be a bright emerald green in colour and even though the fruit will not be ripe yet you will have to eat it. Every last bit of it. This probably won't be pleasant but then some things never are."
The bird stopped here and stared off into the distance. After a pause where he didn't continue on the caterpillar prompted hesitantly.
"Wasn't there a third thing that I'm supposed to do?'
The black bird shook out his feathers and returned his one eyed gaze to the caterpillar.
"That you will know when the time is right. It is something that I can neither tell you nor help you with. It is something that even I do not know. If you follow my instructions and are brave and true in heart then your quest will be successful."
And with a loud ringing cry he spread his wings and flew off into the air leaving the branch he had sprung from trembling and the leaves in the tree shaking from the force of his take off. The caterpillar meanwhile hung on for dear life and thought over everything that the bird had told it.
Contemplation is supposed to be good for the soul but some decisions are meant to be made in a hurry. The fact that that night just happen to be a new moon gave a great amount of credence to this thought. The caterpillar was not normally given to great insights but for once it could see the benefit of quick decisive action. Really the decision had to be made almost instantaneously because living in a tree as a caterpillar did have drawbacks. One of them being that caterpillars don't move too quickly and the water's edge was quite a distance off. If it was going to do this transformation thing it was going to have to be soon or another month was going to go by and goodness knows what can happen in that amount of time.
Without further ado it took a deep breath and started out on its journey. A long journey it was too. All the way to the bottom of the tree. Somewhat scary seeing as it had never been there before. The distance to the water's edge seemed like an epic marathon that went on forever. The need for cover crawled at its senses as it made its slow progress across open ground and the day seemed to stretch away into infinity as the hours went past and still no sight of the water's edge appeared. Finally as the caterpillar thought it could go no further the scent of water met its antennae and it was able to redouble its efforts with its goal in reach.
Shortly thereafter it came into view of a large body of water. Well large for a caterpillar anyway. It stretched off into the distance. A vast expanse of blue that reflected the sky, white fluffy clouds and all. Taking a great interest in the new things that were presented to it the caterpillar looked around for the red leafed tree that was supposed to change its life. It took a great deal of searching and it almost gave up in despair when eventually it caught sight of what it was looking for and was awed into a state of complete admiration by the shining red leaves that sprung from the branches of the small tree. It looked like it was on fire as the descending sun caught the leaves and emphasised their colour in contrast to the verdant foliage that surrounded the rest of the lake.
After a moment of appreciating the beauty of this the caterpillar move down to the base of the tree and found that seeds had already fallen from the tree and had spread in a thick carpet that spread around beneath it. It hurried to collect one of them, as the day was fast beginning to fade, and endeavoured to dig the hole it needed for the seed to be planted in as quickly as possible.
This being done it suddenly realised that watering it was going to be a serious problem. You know that caterpillars are not going to be particularly capable of carrying bucket loads of water and so did the caterpillar. This upset it no end and it was somewhat given over to dejection as it wondered how on earth it was going to be capable of giving the seed the life giving water that it needed.
Sitting forlornly, everybody knows caterpillars can't sit but it was the equivalent there of, wallowing in the self pity that accompanies anyone who comes up against an obstacle and cannot seem to find a way around it the caterpillar tried really hard to come up with a solution. Eventually it gave up and lay down atop the small mound that covered the seed and cried. It didn't just have one of those little cries that stop after a few minutes. It wept and wept. So much hard work and now to miss out on the wonderful chance of becoming a beautiful big butterfly. To be able to soar up into the air and to be free to go wherever it wanted. The poor little caterpillar cried so much that small puddles formed around it and eventually, hiccupping with sobs, it fell into a deep exhausted sleep.
As the caterpillar slept, worn out from its travels of the day and the disappointment it had suffered, the thin sliver of the new moon glowed faintly in the heavens above. The night was very still and a hush settled around the lake as the moon reached its zenith. If anyone had been watching that night they would have witnessed a miracle as small shoots poked their way through the soil next to the caterpillar. They grew slowly at first and then accelerated seemingly drawing strength from the wan light of the moon. Branches stretched their arms to the sky, scarlet leaves unfurled in a burst of fire and then the real magic happened as an emerald green gem grew to the size of an apple in seconds and its weight pulled the branch down so that it hung just above the sleeping caterpillar.
The caterpillar woke the next morning feeling not too well. A bit hungover really, not that caterpillars know anything about that, but the dry mouth and bloodshot eyes were an equivalent. It stretched itself out and turned to look around at the day and decide what it was going to do now. With thoughts of possibly finding a new home and starting things afresh it spied the tree that had grown overnight and stared in astonishment. It had worked! All those tears had not been for nothing after all! Inspecting the fruit closely it wondered how on earth it was going to eat it all in one go. Still, the fruit did look appetising with its shiny green skin looking like it was about to burst and the caterpillar did feel rather famished after all the activity of yesterday. Maybe breakfast would just have to stretch out to lunch. Without further ado the caterpillar climbed up into the tree and out onto the fruit and proceeded to start its breakfast.
Oh, but it did taste horrible! Bitter and sour at the same time. It was hard enough to chew because of the taste let alone swallow it but the caterpillar thought of all the bird had told it and managed to swallow mouthful after mouthful. Eventually nothing remained but the stem and the caterpillar did its best not to disgorge what it had eaten. Now what? Should it do something? Just wait and see what would happen? What was the third thing it was supposed to do?
Suddenly the caterpillar felt a shift in balance. A sensation of turning inside out almost. The world around it started to shrink in on itself and then it faded away into nothing. All consciousness disappeared and the caterpillar knew nothing more.
It was like waking from a long and refreshing sleep. To just lie still and know that you are awake but don't have to do anything about it until you want to, until you and your body are ready to face the new day. After a time she opened her eyes and she knew. She knew that she was in the dark for a reason and that she needed to break free. With careful consideration for her new wings she broke free of the shell that surrounded her and blinked in the sparkling sunshine that greeted her. Everything around her glowed with a new beauty. Things that before had seemed drab and dreary now held a new animation, a new splendour that gave them an excitement and wonder that hadn't existed before.
With all this knowledge however came the other knowledge that the black bird had said would come. She knew now the price she would have to pay for this exquisiteness and freedom. Her new insight told her that as a butterfly her life was limited. She would wear her beauty for but a few days and then she would die. Fluttering her colourful wings gently so that they would dry she prepared herself to fly up into the air to enjoy the small hours that she had left to live and experience her newfound freedom.