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Thursday, January 7, 2010


A gardener is constantly aware of change. Not only the obvious seasonal changes, but we must pay attention to weekly, even daily changes. In May every degree matters as we ponder, "Plant today or wait until tomorrow?"  "Do I need to cover up the tender shoots that broke the soil before the last frost?" 
If we plant or transplant at the wrong time; if we mulch too soon or forget to water; if we don't deadhead spent blossoms soon enough, are issues that can change the life of a garden.
Change is fine, but it is often hard to keep up.

To change from a caterpillar into a moth or butterfly is dramatic. An organism must reallign its molecules as it goes into a very liquid state, surrounded by a tough protective shell.  If you have ever accidently crushed a caterpillar you know that it is mostly goo held in place by its surroundings.

This bagworm has surrounded itself in a covering that makes it very hard to see while it is attached to a bush or tree.

Once it begins changing into an adult, it desperately searches for something to cling on to, reaching ever higher as it pulls itself out of the home that nurtured it.

This caterpillar has found the foundation of our cellar to make its ascent.  Notice the wooden boards above it that make up the siding of the cellar.  Many times the worm attempted to reach the boards, sometimes pulling halfway out of its home. Many times it failed.  As I stood there watching, I wanted to pick it up and help it reach the boards that would carry it upward but I realized that all this work was what made the organism strong.  My "help" would only slow it down. 
While fascinating, it was hard to watch its struggle.  I had no idea what was going on inside or even if the caterpillar would make it.  Many don't. 

These photos show you of what I am writing, but I could just as well be writing about an     emerging       daughter.  Specifically I think of my own daughter who turns 26 today. 
Actually she has been 26 for several hours now.  Her life began as it has continued - in a hurry.  Mary doesn't particularly like to wait.  She complained bitterly about having had to wait for the doctor to come to the hospital and she has been in a hurry ever since. 
Having no time to crawl, the eight-month-old went straight to walking then immediately to running. She continues to run. 
When looking at old photographs, I see many are a blur or, if not, the beautiful child at the center is bruised and scratched.   Adults watched in horror once she discovered  climbing.  Unlike some children, I don't think Mary climbed for the thrill. No, she climbed to get somewhere even if she had no idea where she was going.

She didn't speak alot at first - too busy making plans.  Before she could talk she was picturing her first apartment and the freedom it would give her. Once she decided what she wanted, the rest of us mortals had to get out of her way. Baby gates were merely an interesting object to take apart.  Doors were for sissies.  Her often bare feet flew over the grass as she ran with her brother and older friends. She could always keep up. 
During those early years, the yard and woods were plenty for her.  I could even coerce her into a bit of gardening as long as she didn't have to be too still or patient.

I love this picture because it shows two formless future beauties.  The child who would one day become beautiful is standing in my flower garden.  The beauty of each is in the potential.  Where she stands is now a hill of day lillies and in mid summer is painted with "naked ladies" or surprise lillies the color of my daughter's jacket.  The lone spruce behind her is now a towering giant and one of almost a dozen.  In one of her hands which, incidently are covered by socks, is a rope, part of a long ago plan.  It is a photo of a young, elfish, Indiana Jones dressed for adventure in the jungle that was in both hers and her mother's mind.
Her balance was extraordinary and if she fell more than most, it was because she attempted more than most. Whether it was walking atop a guard rail, or wearing 3 inch heals on a snowy day over the brick streets of Marietta, Ohio, Mary ignored the laws of nature to get what she wanted. 

No, my daughter does not consider patience a virtue. Patience slows a girl down, holds her back. Patience, like doors, is for sissies. 

All this energy becomes focused, like a laser, when she becomes an artist. This is when her plans flow through her hands into a paint brush bringing paper alive with color and emotion.

Being the parent of a daughter is much like watching a caterpillar as it refines its molecules to become what it will.  We want to help, to make things easier but for a child, the work is what builds the personality. Character is built, now born. A daughter's strength comes from facing life and learning to deal with it. 
Tears follow tears as a daughter grows into a woman.  My daughter has transformed from the delightful headstrong energetic child always ready for an adventure to a beautiful headstrong energetic woman once once again embarking on a great adventure as she sets up her life thousands of miles away from home amid the towering Sierra mountains.

Still bruised and still full of plans, the butterfly has emerged.  She tests her wings, flutters a moment then flies.

All photos by nellie howard. Painting done by mary howard.

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