Still half asleep and disoriented, I stub my toe on the door frame as I run for the stairs. Tattletale Thurston is fine, but I discover Lily's cage is open. She's safe on her perch as usual, now looking at me in alarm.
What was the problem? Thurston thought it was high time he was fed....
He's not the only one. My whole house is hungry.
Before bothering to turn on the kettle, I begin feeding the 30+ monarch caterpillars that are enclosed in their little beer cups on my kitchen counter. One by one. Leaf by leaf. Each 'cat' is studied (is it eating?, thriving?, otherwise healthy?). Each cup is emptied of its poop. Each leaf remnant is replaced with fresh milkweed. Each 'cat' is transferred onto its fresh leaf with a paintbrush....
The task takes time but could be so much worse. I've fostered 100+ caterpillars at one time in the past; feeding that many is a full-time affair. And today I'm also collecting info, taking pics, measuring one caterpillar in each instar phase -- all to be used as props and documentation in any opportunities I may have at this season's Fest to teach others about the monarchs.
Knee-deep in my caterpillar routine there's a familiar 'thunk' at my back door. I know what it is. This happens every morning on the days that I feed Lily and Thurston but fail to bring their spent seed and leftovers outside to the feeder. Sure enough -- moments later there's a scrabbling outside my kitchen and soon a grey squirrel is peering in the window over my sink, giving me the stink-eye as I stand at my counter.
I pause in my routine to bring seed outside to the feeder and I see him hiding behind the trunk of the mulberry, watching me with one eye. I see the chipmunk, too, hiding in the hostas. And beyond is Bad Bunny in a patch of blooming clover. Wrens dart from birdhouse to birdhouse, chittering. A monarch flutters up from the back corner, reminding me that I must check that dwindling milkweed patch for eggs and caterpillars. My back garden is full of activity and I long to pull up a patio chair, enjoy a cup of coffee, and just watch it. But there's too much to do....
A quick walk through the dining room in search of my reading glasses reveals the turtles in their tank, finished with their breakfast now and further worrying a strip of plastic caulk in the corner of the aquarium. I pause to remove it and to appreciate their wonderfulness. Tiny turtle hatchlings, so small and perfect, almost like jewelry. And with SO much personality!
I quickly check Nell in her terrarium below them and notice she looks 'different.' Long hairy tarantula legs poking at odd angles from the end of her hollow log. A quick blow into the screen top doesn't make them retract, but it does make an additional pair of legs appear at the other end! The effect is bizarre and makes me think of a slinkydog or a pushme-pullyu. But it's just that she's moulted. I must remember to look for a jar or a specimen box just in case the moult is all in one piece (because how cool would that be??).
About the time I've finished feeding and checking on the others -- James's beta fish, his snake Syntche, the little housemouse, rattie Max -- Boo appears. It's foodtime for her, too. I've wondered where she's been hiding since my frantic wake-up call revealed she wasn't in bed with me. Or in any of her other hide-outs. Or underfoot, as usually happens first thing in the morning. Who knows where she's been? But wherever it was, I'm sure it's cozy. Someplace I'd like to curl up in if I were a cat.
I feed her before putting on my shoes and grabbing my tool caddies -- two cardboard 6-pack Guinness carriers wrapped in duct tape and outfitted with a pair of scissors, a bottle of drinking water, two ziploc containers lined with moist paper towels, and a little bottle of WD-40 in the event my bike -- 'Gladys' -- is especially squeaky. I pack everything into her basket and we're off.
And then I remember: I fed everyone but myself! Good thing I brought an apple. :)
The day is glorious. A Calvin and Hobbes day. The sun is warm on my back. The clouds are billowy overhead. I reach Postage Stamp Pond and it's too pretty for words, but I'd best keep my eye on the bike path so I can be sure to dodge the occasional pile of dog poop and the dozen or so fly-covered toads, all squashed into the tar by bike tires. Some sad in the midst of my happy.... The poop disgusts me. The toad bodies just break my heart. I love toads. I used to see so many of them when I was a child, and now it seems there are so few. So when I suspect they're being targeted on the walking path, it pains me. Although, to be fair, when James and I walked it recently at the very end of the day, it alarmed us how the toads looked just like rocks in front of us as they lay basking in the heat of the day-warmed path. Had we not been vigilant we'd have squashed a dozen or so between us. They didn't move, even when we prodded them with a toe. Perfect targets....
I ride to where the path meets the busy road. And instead of crossing and continuing on, I turn around, leave Gladys to graze on the verge, and begin to collect milkweed. Dried white spatters tell me where I harvested leaves the day before; the milkweed juice is opaque as paint. There are bees everywhere, and electric blue 'darning needles.' A family of Canada geese eyes me warily as I inch along, but I ignore them. My hunting turns up nothing but a single monarch egg.... I fill a plastic container with enough leaves for my existing herd and return to where Gladys waits on the bike path.
Back again in my cluttery kitchen I put the leaf with its little monarch egg into a shotglass full of fresh water. The ziploc containers with their fresh milkweed leaves get placed in the fridge; their contents will come in handy tonight when I feed and check the late-stage caterpillars before bed. It's afternoon now and all the monarch work is over for a bit, I think. But then I remember the little patch of dwindling milkweed at the bottom of my garden and I go outside to check it.
Happy day! -- three more hatchlings.
Work's not over yet.