Mother Nature shares her secrets if we listen to her whispers. There are little nudges and nods if we tune in and pay attention. There is wisdom in the wind. Knowledge from the trees. Lessons from the animals. All it takes is for us to listen and learn.
While I was staying at Bomoseen State Park in Vermont a few weeks back, Mother Nature dangled a not-so-subtle lesson right in front of my face.
When my dog and I arrived at the state park campground, I experienced something I had never seen before. It first began when I went to the shower house which was shaded by trees. From every branch hung silk strands with caterpillars dangling down like ornaments on a Christmas tree. One strand hung down about four feet and had three caterpillars latched on swaying in the breeze. Upon further inspection, the entire shower house roof had thousands of caterpillars crawling over one another. I have spent a lot of time in nature, but the most I have seen is one caterpillar at a time, and it was always on a solo journey.
After returning from the shower house, I sat outside my travel trailer under the awning enjoying the surroundings and the quiet with the distant sound of boat motors humming. Since I had arrived in Vermont, I had been fighting mosquitoes and trying to fend off their bites. So, when I felt something on my leg, I thought another battle was about to ensue. Instead of mosquitoes though, it was a fuzzy black caterpillar with delicate white spots. I looked down and another caterpillar was resting on the strap of my flip flop. Then another one was inching along on the armrest of my lounge chair. Every time I carefully brushed the caterpillars away and sent them flying to the ground, they would inevitably find their way back onto my chair and me. It became this little game we played.
What finally made me pay attention to these persistent creatures was when I went to the beach at Bomoseen Lake which was a short five-minute walk from my campsite. I found a small tree that gave ample shade and laid out my towel. I stripped down to my bathing suit and pulled out the book I was reading. I would read a few paragraphs then gaze out into the lake. I heard the low mutterings of couples’ conversations. The waves lapped loudly against the shore as the speeding boats’ ripples reached the beach. The squeals of children jumping off the dock rivaled the boat motors. Then I let out a squeal myself. A single caterpillar rappelled down its silk strand to hang in front of me at eye level. It was like a character from Alice in Wonderland. I waited for him to pull out a black top hat from his fuzzy coat and start a conversation with me in a British accent. Besides this dangling caterpillar, there were caterpillars wandering over my towel and over my various limbs like they were exploring a new trail on a mountain.
It was at this point I took an interest in these insects that had no concept of personal space. I learned from a local that these caterpillars would one day be moths, and these caterpillars would eventually create a cocoon; however, there was a process they went through first.
I never knew that caterpillars molted. They shed their skin five different times, and after each molting, it is called an instar. A caterpillar’s skin can’t grow with it, so it grows a new skin under the old and sheds the old when it is time. This process really resonated with me. Symbolism is never lost on me, and I realized I experienced my own molting and instar phases as well.
I explored the idea of outgrowing my own “skin.” I thought about the times I made huge changes in my life because the way I was living and approaching life no longer suited me. It led me to this moment.
A caterpillar’s first instar starts after birth when they eat the eggshell they were born from, and they eat the leaf they are on. During each instar phase, caterpillars continue to eat and grow. (Caterpillars are around 2-6 mm when they start their first instar. By the time they make it to the fifth and final instar, they are 25-45 mm). My (re)birth and first instar began in 2011. This was the time I attended therapy and started to connect with myself and rediscover who I truly was before the world taught me to be someone else. I started to realize what I wanted my life to look like and who I wanted to be in my own life.
My first molting was in 2016 when I took everything I had learned in therapy over the years, applied it to my life, and I finally started living for myself. I left a state I didn’t choose to live in, I left a boyfriend who didn’t treat me like I deserved, and I moved to Oregon, a state I had always wanted to live in, to begin honoring myself for the first time in 37 years. I entered the second instar phase of my life. Like the caterpillar, I too devoured my surroundings and the new experiences I was having, and my soul was fed.
The second instar phase ended in 2020 when once again I was outgrowing my skin. It was time to shed fear and doubts. My third instar, which I am in now, began on September 30th, 2020 when I decided to sell most of my belongings, give up the house I was renting, and buy a travel trailer. I have now been traveling around the United States and living in my 17-foot travel trailer for nine months. Every day I am realizing more about who I am and who I want to be.
During the time my personal and physical space was infested by the caterpillars at Bomoseen State Park, I had been gently pushed to live more primitively. Throughout my journey, I spent most of my time at state park campgrounds. There were a few overnights I spent in parking lots or in campsites down forest roads, but it was never for an extended period of time. At this point, I was on day eight out of 14 for living primitively. The first three days I stayed in the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont. The campsite was down a forest road, it backed up to the woods, and my “neighbors” were at least a ½ mile away. The next seven days were at the Bomoseen State Park campground, but the campground had no electricity or water. So, while I did have access to coin showers, I didn’t have any amenities at my campsite. The final four days were spent back at the Green Mountain National Forest.
One other interesting correlation is when a caterpillar finishes molting, its new skin is fragile. It takes time for it to harden. Anytime we start a new venture we are vulnerable and exposed. We are stepping into the unknown. But, as we continue to commit to our new way of being, we do become stronger. Our convictions are reinforced.
Living nine months on the road has already taught me so much about myself and life. I am not sure when I will fully know how this time has affected me, but I have seen shifts. I was already self-sufficient and independent, but I have pushed myself even further. Traveling alone with my dog, driving cross country, setting up camp, weathering storms, overcoming obstacles, and just taking everything in stride has shown me who I am. I have been completely immersed in nature. When I am camping primitively, I don’t have as much access to my electronics. I spend more time outside, I read and write, and deepen my relationship with myself. I am living on a limited budget and have limited space, and I am surviving. There are times I actually feel like I am thriving.
When I finally committed to my dream of traveling across the United States, I was ready for a challenge because as time went on, I stopped buying into what I was told my life should be like. I wanted to live minimally. I wanted to be able to travel full-time. I wanted to live among nature and keep things simple. The things I started to want the most had nothing to do with money or material things.
I still have three months left before I head back to Oregon to reconnect to the place I love. I have no idea how I will evolve, but I know in this very moment my new skin is growing and waiting to shed.
Laporte, B. (n.d.). Caterpillar instars. Backyard Nature. https://www.backyardnature.net/instars.htm
Sachs, S. (n.d.). Metamorphosis. Butterfly School. http://www.butterflyschool.org/new/meta.html