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dig in and cocoon

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

Most people are familiar with the miraculous cycle of the butterfly. An egg becomes a larva, the larva grows until its time to dangle precipitously from a leaf and become a chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, it is reconstructed. Then, it emerges as a completely new version of itself. A soft, folded-in-on-itself butterfly. The butterfly hardens and flies off - new structures mean new modes of travel. This process happens over and over and over again all over the planet.

The yucca glauca is a plant that often mistaken for a cactus but is a member of the Agave family. It grows in the transition from plains to mountains and flowers in the wet years. In the dry years, only the long, stiff, pointed leaves stand at attention. Leaves described as bayonets.

The flowers are large, white layers of buttery and waxy petals. They, too, have a fascinating cycle - from protected buds the size of my fist that open to reveal similarly waxy structures inside. If the deer don’t chomp them off in one bite where the flower meets the stalk, the petals drop and the flower becomes a woody seed pod. This is completely dependent on a fascinating partnership with one specific moth.

Inside there is another miracle of the natural world.

The yucca moth goes easily unnoticed. Rather than flashy, it’s white and small and common. In the wet years, in perfect synchronicity with the plant, the moth flies from flower to flower collecting and therefore distributing the riches of pollen. The female moth lays her eggs inside the folds of the flower’s base protected by the waxy structure. Then she packs the stigma with a ball of pollen. Again in perfect timing, the flower now with pollen transforms into a seed pod with the egg tucked inside.

A note on the seed pod. It has chambers. Six long chambers where the black seeds are discs stacked like casino chips or Oreos. Six chambers of stacked seeds and a yucca moth egg. When the egg hatches, the larva has an instant supply of food. And when you see the inside of the seed pod once it cracks open, you can see the long tunnel through the stack of seeds where the larvae ate its way through.

When the larva is ready, it carves its way out of the seed pod and lowers itself to the ground on a silken string. A death-defying act when you look at the relative size of the larvae and the 2-3 foot height of the pod. This stimulates the opening of the seed pod. Sit with that for a moment. Miraculous.

Upon the ground, the larva burrows down under the protected roots of the yucca. And pupates. It forms a cocoon (cocoon for moth, chrysalis for butterfly). And waits. And waits. And when the wet year comes and the flowers will bloom, the moth emerges and begins again. Both the plant and the moth. Begin again.

While there are other events in each individual yucca plant, it does not serve the purpose of the metaphor, so I won’t go into it. But, as a teaser to stimulate your curiosity, there are ants farming aphids and ladybugs feeding on ants. Each plant, roughly 18” tall and 36” in circumference. Its own tiny universe.


So here we all are. Staying home. Sheltering-in-place. Hopefully with food and kindness and virtual connections to loved ones. Acknowledging that the ability to feel safe in a home right now is a privilege. Not everyone has this. They dangle precipitously.

This is transformation + resilience. When the year is dry, the moth stays burrowed in its pupal stage. A cocoon. We’re in a dry time. A time that requires us to stay in. If we emerge too soon, the conditions will not be right for our survival. Waiting. Adopt the pace of nature: patience.

When the time is right, this sweet moth emerges and takes flight. Adapted to the demands of the world around it. Reformed. Restructured. This time with wings.

Our cocoons are not void of feelings. Feelings we need to acknowledge and let float through us in waves without a fight. Maybe those feelings are grief and fear. Yes. Those are real and we deserve to feel those. Maybe those feelings include gratitude for time to do puzzles with loved ones who are typically running in a thousand directions. My cocoon is a soup of all of those things. I am scared. I am grateful. I am grieving all the things. And people.

This is an offering for the times. Can we all tuck in and restructure? I believe so. But with oh-so-much effort and intention to emerge with wings. For now, though, burrow down. Dig in. Pupate. We'll all emerge better.


For more on the yucca moth.

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