The week I met a hundred spiky caterpillars

I’m not a gardener, and, whilst I still have an over-enthusiastic interest in my childhood crush, The Really Wild Show‘s Chris Packham (please YouTube if you don’t know what I’m talking about), I’m not a fanatical nature-lover either. However, a little encounter with a lot of caterpillars has had a real impact on me this week!

Here are my field notes in 20 points:

Wednesday morning:

1) Go on long walk with friend.

2) Final stretch, along busy road. Spot big black clump of something on the nettles on the bank.

3) Interrupt my companion, mid-sentence. Make her stop and look.

4) Discover a mass of moving, spiky, shiny-faced little fellows munching away at the leaves!

5) Widen gaze to see clumps of eggs, spidery web stuff and more mini caterpillars ready to hatch.

6) Take video of the spectacle for the kids.

7) Feel amazed to have noticed something in nature.

8) Feel excited by potential of all those little eggs.

9) Report findings on What’sApp and receive species identification from my mum (peacock caterpillars, by the way).

Wednesday evening:

10) Take a detour on the way back from Brownies and Swimming to show a bemused trio of children. Middle child fairly grossed-out.


Today (Friday morning):

11)Anticipate meeting the little creatures again.

12) Excitement as approach the stretch of brambles… there they are!

13) Oh no! Shriveled bodies and dull faces… they’re all dead! Stuck in spidery web stuff with nothing left to eat maybe… or sunburnt? Or wind-burnt?

14) Feel a few seconds of loss.

15) Video with commentary announcing death to vaguely interested What’sApp groups.

16) Widen gaze. Still more clumps of eggs. Still other healthy-looking specimens on leaves further in.

17) Regain hope.

18) Get back in car.

19) Sister phones to laugh at me and check I’m not going mad.

20) Ponder the world and everything in it. Write article.


… Which brings you bang up-to-date.

Stay a bit longer and please humour me as I go on to give you the important part:


Life lessons from the caterpillars:

1) Getting EXERCISE turned out to be fun!

2) Yes, you are a grown-up, but there’s still so much NEW stuff to discover. ( I also saw a baby mole for the first time.. dead, yes, but I still took a photo).

3) Don’t be too polite to interrupt someone – share your curiosity and bring others in on your discoveries.

4) STOP and LOOK!

5) See the detail AND the bigger picture.

6) JOURNAL/document profound things.

7) Express GRATITUDE for cool discoveries.

8) INVEST in the overall story – take time to find out more, step into a different world and situation so that you develop a genuine interest and empathy.

9) SHARE news and reconnect with friends at the same time!

10) Champion the limitations of technology! Make kids see something for real, in real life. Delay the routine to make memories.

(11) Note to self – play down the excitement and repeat caterpillar visits to anyone normal or anyone with a normal job, to ensure they stay friends with me.)

You get the idea – each of my field note points has a mini-lesson in it!

What really impacted me was that once I had bought-in to this microcosm (especially now that I’ve just witnessed the fragility and threat to it), it was as if I saw each pocket of my life as a microcosm – a delicate balance to keep things healthy, growing, living. I thought about groups I used to be in; I heard about friends receiving devastating diagnoses; I looked around in the playground at the mums I’d had pretty deep conversations with in the past and wondered when I’d stopped cultivating those friendships and why.

Tuned in to my more thoughtful side, that same day, an old Graham Kendrick song, Meekness and Majesty, took me back to my childhood and the image of Jesus’s outstretched arms on the cross.

Meekness and majesty, manhood and deity,

In perfect harmony – the man who is God;

Lord of eternity, dwells in humanity,

Kneels in humility, and washes our feet.

Those tiny, humble little caterpillars taught me to stop and see things through new eyes. They took me away from the dreary routine. My little investigation of them was not essential to my to-do list but it brought a welcome breath of fresh air to my week. Only an hour after discovering them, I found myself in a little service in the village and the words of that song took me back to being 12 years old when, with teary eyes, sweaty palms, and my heart beating through my chest, I surrendered my life to Jesus.  I vividly recalled being full of hope – lacking the complacency and cynicism I easily fall into today – and earnestly seeking to know more of the one who died for me.

6 who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:6-11 New International Version

God sent a hundred spiky caterpillars to reach me in June, preceded by this little prophet, who appeared by the beach to pique my interest in May.

Whatever’s ahead for July?!

(And I wonder, should send my field notes to Chris Packham when I mail my next fan letter?!)


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