Biscuits and Gravy: Luni
As kids in elementary school we all do, well, interesting things. I remember one year in particular that I believe my dad thought I must be nuts at my insisting on a new pet. At the time, about the start of when I was in fifth grade, we lived in the tiny town of Bluff City, TN. Now as I’ve mentioned before, Bluff City was a lovely town of 1,300 residents, half of which were in the cemetery. Yet from where we lived, literally across the street from the town middle school, one block from the elementary school and two from the church my dad pastored, things were quite convenient. Convenience however had it’s drawbacks.
Being a young Southern boy, I had the habit of frequently testing limits and wandering all over the countryside, far from where I was supposed to. but that’s besides the point. I remember that year I was, as usual, meandering around the church and happened to go down the tiny alley beside it. Now, the church itself, Bluff City Baptist Church, had a rather large building it used as its Fellowship Hall across the parking lot. The building was an old converted department store and was perfect for events. Running alongside that building was a narrow alley that had a wrought iron fence running its length as part of someone’s yard. The people who owned that property had planted large bushes along the fence, and I enjoyed walking down the alleyway with the green branches draped through the slats.
This time when I neared the end close to Main Street, I noticed something clinging to a branch of the bush. Stopping, I looked closer to find a caterpillar munching on a leaf. It wasn’t any normal caterpillar, but was about four inches long and was the width of a quarter. Now, we have big bugs in the south, but I had never seen a caterpillar that could have easily been mistaken for a multicolored hot dog. I didn’t dare touch it. Each segment of his smooth rubbery self had two bright yellow posts rising from his bright green body. These posts had knobs with black specs, and I knew all too well that if I touched him, I’d get the sting of my life. Regardless, my fascination with this giant bug continued. On the same bush was another giant caterpillar, but this one, sticking out into the alley, somehow drew me.
Reaching into my pocket I pulled out my pocket knife and cut off the branch from the bush and carried my new friend home. Now, being the science fiction nut I was, and still am, I figured that since the yellow posts on this creature looked like lunar towers in sci-fi shows I’d call him ‘Luni’. Surprising to me when I got home, mom didn’t freak out but instead mom and dad helped me find a large pickle jar to but Luni in, and punched holes in the lid for air. Taking branches from Luni’s bush, I made a habitat inside for him and put Luni into his new home. Day after day, I’d watch Luni. So did my cat for that matter, but for different reasons. I took Luni to class for show and tell and quickly he became the class science project. When late Fall came, I noticed the other caterpillar on that bush had spun his cocoon and sure enough within days, Luni began to spin his. He began to eat less and less instead preferring to spin his capsule and I watched in fascination as he meticulously worked away. Finally finished with his masterpiece, he disappeared inside. Winter came and went, a much harsher winter than we had ever had, and the other caterpillar outside looked in trouble. His cocoon was an odd color, almost lifeless in it’s own right.
Now, Luni’s jar sat on a table in front of a window downstairs to let the light shine on the cocoon and keep it warm. But when spring came and still no Luni to be seen I feared the worst. Early one morning however, I awoke to a crash sound and raced down the stairs. The jar I saw had fell from the table and the lid popped off with my cat standing guard at the opening. Surprisingly she wasn’t trying to get in but was trying to keep something from getting out. Right as rain I looked and saw, not a caterpillar, but a massive moth inside the jar, fluttering wildly. Taking him outside, I let Luni go; no longer my green caterpillar but instead a giant Cecropia moth. Luni fluttered around me a moment, almost as if to say goodbye before flying off. ‘He’ landed shortly thereafter and laid eggs on the wall of our family camper. Luni didn’t hang around for long, but rather flew off into the countryside. I wondered for a time if I had somehow harmed Luni, until I noticed Luni’s companion on that bush never emerged from it’s cocoon. In my moment of fascination, I had actually saved a life.
Luni was special to me in that I not only made an impact to save this rare creature but I had experienced the awe of the wonders of life itself. Even with something so simple as this tiny caterpillar I was able to take a glimpse into life itself and the wonders of our world. It gave me a new found respect for life and how one really can transform so long as care and dedication are made to building the framework to enable that transformation. Just like Luni’s cocoon, if the framework is strong enough, the transformation will be spectacular.