We walk past the boat harbor. Sailboats bob in the bay. Purple and yellow flowers line the sidewalk as we pass the water treatment plant. They are not enough to take the mind and nose away from the stench, but the smell doesn’t bother us. It’s something we have come to know as home. I think of the waste—from people and pets, from all that we consume—running through pipes and filters. Water getting clean again, running back through more filters and pipes. Running out of hoses. Filling glasses, bathtubs, and ice cube trays. Drip, drip, dripping from leaky faucets and seeping into our dreams at night.
“Look! Look!” Oogie shouts, pointing toward a flock of herring gulls soaring overhead. They move over the harbor and the playground, past the bandshell toward Lake Huron.
“Pretty,” my wife says.
And it is.
All of it is.
The shimmering waves. The squeaky swings as kids sway back and forth, laughing and shrieking. The big ugly mountain of salt kept near the river for the winter that’s months out but getting closer every day. The crumbling armory that’s been turned into a place for laser tag. And my wife and daughter searching every milkweed along the river for caterpillars on the edge of the city mowing line.
They find four tonight.
“We need fresh stuff to eat,” my wife says. Not to me, but to the two fat colorful creatures she has on a leaf in her hand.
“Yes!” Oogie cheers. “These guys are hungry!” She is beaming, carrying two caterpillars in her small hands.
A monarch butterfly rises from a lilac bush when we are about three blocks from home. We are silent but happy as it follows us as if watching to make sure that we’ll do good. When it is satisfied that we mean well, it flies off toward our neighbor’s garden.
When we get home, I mix a drink. It’s time to unwind. I will sit on the front porch and listen to this small town settle its way to sleep. But first, I look into the world my wife and daughter have worked so hard to create. Their butterfly house. The place where caterpillars eat and poop and eat and poop and grow and grow until they know it’s time to climb to the top, form a J, then tremble and shake themselves into a smooth, shiny chrysalis.
Last year, it gave birth to nineteen monarchs. My wife and daughter named them all. We only lost one. I’m not sure of the name. Something like Stan or Earl. Definitely a male. He rose up to fly away, made a wide loop out over the yard then came right back and landed on the porch in front of our dog. Our cute, harmless Buggle that apparently thought it was some sort of treat. She chomped little Stan or Earl up into bits, spit him out, then cowered between my legs. I moved quickly to pick up the pieces, sure that my daughter would be devasted.
“Aw,” she said. “It’s okay, Dad. He probably wouldn’t have made it far anyway.”
“Survival of the fittest,” my wife added.
So far this year, there are fifteen waiting to make the change. Nine chrysalises and six caterpillars. They haven’t given them official names yet, but they have a list. Like parents choosing possible names for their unborn baby. Waiting as patiently as possible for that new and incredible life to have its one chance to wake this world to color again.