Startle Display: A Writer Wednesday PostSeptember 17th, 2014 | Posted by in Essays | Publication News
To listen to this post, please click here:Startle Display
After a week away, I could hardly wait to get fresh flowers in the house again.
Michaelmas daisies are at it this time of year—starry blooms in fruity purples, chalky periwinkles— and this glorious shrub above (Lespedeza thunbergii Gibraltar, or Bush Clover) is at the height of her beauty. Her long stems are crowded with opulent, pea-like blossoms and if magenta can be gentle, she’s it.
I happily loaded my gathering basket, but ouch! Felt something sharp as I clipped her stems. Almost like thorns, I thought. How uncharacteristic of the pea family.
Indoors, I began arranging the stems in a vase. “Ow!” That really hurt! The heel of my hand went red and throbbing. I picked up a leaf.
Talk about startled.
Looks like an intergalactic visitor. I promptly googled it. I had been stung by a Saddleback Caterpillar. Who knew there even were stinging caterpillars?
If defense were the ultimate expression of power, Saddlebacks would rule–they are the most well-defended creature I’ve ever laid eyes on. Those multiple spiraling spines are not only sharp, but venomous, and can break off and lodge in the sting-ee. The spots that look like a big face are meant to scare aggressors. Boo! It’s called the startle display.
When you calm down, though, and look again, you see this fellow is essentially an armored slug, just trying to get his naked, vulnerable self from here to there. He grows up to be a spikeless, venom-free, furry brown moth.
It was worth the sting and startle to behold this creature who reminds us fierce defense is but a passing stage in growth.
John thinks I saved his life last fall. I am pleased to say that “An Argument With Water,” wherein I describe the experience, has just been published in deComp magazine. You can read it here.
If you are Chappaqua, NY on Saturday Sept 27, please stop by my table at the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. It’s a grand event, and I will be gussied up as Mother Nature once again–