I am probably one of the least outdoorsy people around. And yet somehow this quarantine has left me with a fascination — perhaps a fleeting one — for invertebrates. I’m that person who would rather stay inside in the summer evenings to thwart off potential interfaces with mosquitoes, yet I found myself literally bringing insects and worms into our quarantine abode (also known as my parents’ house).
In an effort to reduce the amount of daily garbage that my family was producing, I decided to start vermicomposting (composting with worms). I dug out a copy of Worms Eat My Garbage that I used when researching a middle school science project on that topic and got to work creating a worm bin. I thought this project would be fun for our kids and enable me to do some small form of giving back to the world — suburban style, if you may.
Our red worms had quite the homecoming. In the midst of one of my busiest days at work — with barely a chance to eat between back-to-back zooms — I spotted a pile of Amazon boxes at the foyer in the house. As I looked closer at the floor, I noticed worms crawling everywhere. The worms had arrived one day early and they had clearly not liked staying in their cramped cardboard box! Suffice it to say, these critters did not receive a warm welcome by my parents.
The caterpillars had a much smoother arrival, all contained in their plastic cup with a well-sealed lid. They arrived “sleeping” for a few days and I kept a close eye on the container to make sure they all remained in it once they woke up.
These fuzzy critters became my in-person co-workers. It was an added bonus that, unlike my toddler pre-nap time, they did not need to be muted on Zoom calls. They were quiet and animated, all in a no-mess manner, much to my delight. My kids would visit them every so often, but I think I was much more entranced by them.
Three days after the caterpillars each turned into chrysalis (not a word typically used in my vocabulary), I quietly—and successfully—transferred them into their netted habitat. I was quite proud of this quarantine accomplishment. To date, all five have successfully emerged as butterflies. And like my kids, they are enjoying melon slices.
I have been curious about my newfound bug fascination. While these bug adventures certainly count as science activities for my children, I would be remiss to underestimate how much meaning they have brought to my quarantine existence.
Perhaps there are also youthful elements to my interest in these projects. Maybe I’d like to retreat to simpler times with simpler responsibilities; A Bug’s Life might be more animated than my own.
There is such beauty and simplicity in accompanying a caterpillar through its metamorphosis. There is something incredibly gratifying about giving back to the earth, even in such a small way through vermicomposting, at a time when the world seems to be literally running amok.
I wonder if I will experience a sense of loss and jealousy when we set these butterflies free. They will head off into the world from which my family and I are retreating; they will go on to have a “typical” butterfly life.
Perhaps these butterflies and worms will help me make the most of this time in a cocoon with my family. Though much of our human world has gone awry in the pandemic period, it is comforting to witness that life — at least on the invertebrate level — can be predictable and proceeds as planned.