Sunday, April 26. Day 41 of Quito’s COVID19 Lockdown.
We wake before dawn and watch the lights shift across Pichincha. My husband muses, “Boredom is the compost of creativity.”
I check in on my baby caterpillars to see if they survived the night.
I open the jar and my heart sinks as I see dozens of little black balls. I think the caterpillars have died and these are the remains of their tiny bodies. My guilt rises.
I grab my phone and focus my camera into the jar and am relieved to find the babies happily inching along and see that the black balls are caterpillar scat. They are eating!
They have eaten holes into one of the lemon verbena leaves and so I decide to add more and break off a twig from my potted lemon verbena plant, adding it to the jar.
I have been beating back a plague of aphids in my beloved lemon verbena and one of the surviving aphids falls into the jar with the twig.
I balance my phone on the top of the jar, focus my camera and turn on the video. By sheer luck, I capture a baby caterpillar’s first encounter with this aphid and, by all accounts, my housebound aphid’s first encounter with a caterpillar. I film them as they slowly approach each other. The aphid tentatively reaches out it’s antenna to touch the caterpillar. The caterpillar raises its body, dancing back and forth momentarily like a miniature cobra. She stretches out her neck and then chomps on the aphid’s antenna. The aphid jumps back and stumbles away.
Wild kingdom, miniature scale.
Happy Sunday everyone.
Saturday, April 25. Day 40 of Quito’s COVID19 Lockdown.
Day 40. Quarantine or “Cuarentena” comes from the Italian word “cuarenta,” meaning 40 and refers to the 40 days that ships arriving in Venice would have to wait before disembarking in an effort to protect the city from the spread of the Black Plague. In the Genesis story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights before stopping. After escaping Pharoah and crossing the Dead Sea, the 12 tribes followed Moses and wandered in the desert for 40 years, lost and murmuring. Before entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus was tempted by Satan for 40 days in the desert. The Christian calendar marks 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Clearly the number 40 is mythically important and seems to connect to forced reflection in an era of tumult, confusion, and radical change.
On the news today, reports multiply of Donald Trump encouraging scientists to inject COVID patients with detergent in order to cleanse the human body of the virus.
I feel relieved that we have made it this far alive.
The morning sun grows stronger and it is clearly time to move my itty bitty caterpillar colony into a jar. I am worried that when I open their incubator they will fall onto the floor and happily find my house plants or favorite wool sweaters and happily devour them. Out of an abundance of caution, I tape a paper bag to the window below the incubator in order to catch any stragglers. I carefully peel off the tape around the plastic viewing window and then use two envelopes to collect the caterpillar babies. I slide them off the paper. Some of the caterpillars spin out fine threads as they fall into the jar. I add in lettuce. I worry about them eating and add a few other kinds of leaves just in case. A broken begonia leaf. Two lemon verbena leaves gathered from my indoor garden. I measure one of the caterpillars with a clear plastic ruler. 2 millimeters! I watch them scamper along the glass for a long time through the amplified viewing panel of my phone camera. They scrunch along intently like little inchworms.
Friday, April 24 Day 39 of Quito’s COVID Lockdown.
Day 7 of Insect Egg Incubation.
This is our 6th Shabbat in quarantine. Already we are forming new rituals. Every Friday night we family tele celebrate cross continentally. We hook up Zoom and connect three separate households. My daughter harbored with my brother and sister-in-law in Maryland and my husband’s sister and her wife who dial in from just outside of D.C. In the late afternoon, through the screen of my Iphone, I make challah with my daughter and chat with my brother in his kitchen.
In this time of our metamorphosis, a gazillion itty bitty caterpillars have been born on our windowpane held in place by my makeshift incubator. Just in time for Shabbat! I watch them amazed as they scoot along the pane with the quiet city and volcano behind them.
That night I dream that my house has been invaded by hundreds of huge, fat caterpillars. They crawl on the beams, climb up the stairs, pour out of the closets, march in trains out from under the living room rug. In the dream, I see their mother—a beautiful triangular moth with brown patterns on her wings, fancy red fern antenna and elegant feet, and fluffy red, white and black stripes down her body. She is extraordinary and I am comforted that these fat marching caterpillars overtaking my home are on their way to this new brilliant state of being.
April 17, Day 32 of Quito’s COVID19 lockdown.
I wake before dawn and check my phone. It opens to my calendar and helpfully reports “no upcoming destinations.” I amble out to the living room and as the sun rises I notice something odd in the upper third of our window. For the last few days I thought it was a pale yellow smudge on the outside of the pane but today I take the time to look more closely and find that the smudge is a clutch of eggs laid on the inside of the glass.
What mother chose this spot for her offspring?
Her creative geometry dazzles me.
All those creatures waiting, their lives unfolding and soon they will emerge with new eyes to take in the expansive city and the mesmerizing volcano beyond.
I rummage through my storage closets and find a package of picture hangers encased in carton with a small plastic viewing window. It’s perfect. I empty it out, strip off the carton, set the viewing window over the clutch of eggs and seal it with scotch tape. I step back and admire this makeshift incubator. I worry momentarily that they may need fresh air or that perhaps they will scorch from the sun. But what can I do? This is where their mother laid them and this is how I can best watch over them without risking a mass caterpillar escape through our apartment.