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Author: susantara

Savoring Light: Leaf Lantern Tutorials

Savoring Light: Leaf Lantern Tutorials

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”  -Eleanor Roosevelt

The days are noticeably shorter and colder all of a sudden! The sun sets earlier now, and by the time I get home from work, it’s already getting dark. I have a wonderful commute home through lots of cornfields and down a hill with a great view of the setting sun. The colors of the sunset are so soothing, featuring orange-rose toward the ground gradating into a soft blue higher up. There’s also purple in the mix. I love seeing the bare trees silhouetted in front of the rich, gradated colors.

At this time of year, I am in search of light – savoring the sunrise and appreciating the way the rising sun interplays with water in its various states.

Sunrise coming through the window

Frost crystals coating leaves and plants become prisms reflecting the sunlight in a variety of colors, glowing like lights on a Christmas tree.

It thrills me to see the world fill with light each morning and to see the light shine through leaves and other natural objects, making them come alive with vibrance.

Drawn intensely to light as the sun travels a path lower in the sky, this is also the time of year when I become motivated to make lanterns to illuminate the darkness. This week, I made two different kinds of leaf lanterns. The first is a transparent, wax paper lantern that I have adapted over the years from a wonderful, Waldorf-inspired book called Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children by Carol Petrash.

Materials:

  • Some pressed autumn leaves (gather some fallen leaves from the ground, and press them inside a thick book for about a week)
  • Wax paper
  • Cylindrical oatmeal or ice cream container (such as Edy’s)
  • Iron and ironing surface
  • Scissors
  • A piece of orange or red cardstock or construction paper (I used painted watercolor paper for the pictured lantern)
  • Glue (either hot glue gun or white tacky glue)
  • Hole punch
  • Handle from a paper shopping bag or brown- or green- wrapped florist’s wire from a craft store (or you could use a pipe cleaner)
  • Tea light (LED or real flame)
  • Glass votive holder or jar (if using a real tea light)
  • Thick, cushioned double-sided tape (if using a real tea light)

Step 1: The Base

Cut off the bottom 3/4” of the cylindrical container, and recycle the rest. This will be the base of the lantern.

Step 2: The Body
 
Cut out two 18.5″ wide by 9″ tall pieces of wax paper. Place one piece on top of an ironing board (or  a pillowcase-covered table surface). Turn iron to lowest setting. Arrange pressed leaves on the wax paper, with their most colorful side facing you.

When the leaves are arranged as you want them, carefully place the second piece of wax paper on top of the leaves. Carefully iron over the wax paper, to fuse the two pieces together. At this point, you may want to trim the edges so they’re even and straight. (A paper cutter is handy!)

Step 3: Putting It Together

Cut a few 3/4”-wide strips from the cardstock. (I had on hand some pretty paper painted with acrylic inks that I used instead of cardstock.) Glue a strip along the entire bottom and top edges of the wax paper, making sure the strip is glued to the side that shows the leaves’ brightest colors. Although you can’t tell from the photo, my strips weren’t quite long enough, so I used pieces of another strip to extend them to the edge.

Next, attach the wax paper to the base by lining up the bottom of the wax paper flush with the bottom of the base. (Make sure the side with the cardstock strips faces outward.) Carefully glue around the edges of the base, and roll the wax paper around it. (A hot glue gun makes this step easier, but you’ll have to work quickly.) You’ll end up with some overlap between the two wax paper edges, so run a thin line of glue from bottom to top at the overlap, to close the lantern into a cylindrical shape.

Step 4: Attaching a Handle

Next, make two holes with a hole punch or a pencil point close to the top of the lantern. The holes should be opposite each other. Attach whatever type of handle you’re using through the two holes. If you’re using a paper shopping bag handle or wrapped wire, either twist or glue each end together to fasten securely.

If you intend to light the lantern with a real flame, attach a votive candle holder or jar to the lantern base by using a small piece of double-sided tape, and put a tea light inside.

Here’s what this kind of lantern looks like when it’s lit:

And now for the second kind of leaf lantern, which I made this week with my kindergartners.

Earlier in the fall, I had my students do watercolor crayon-resist leaf rubbings. First, they rubbed the watercolor paper with crayons to reveal the texture of the leaves underneath the 9″x12″ paper. Then they covered the entire paper with fall-toned watercolors. The crayon markings resisted the watercolor and stood out. These masterpieces were displayed in the hallway for a while until we converted them into leaf lanterns. In other words, we repurposed their art work!

Materials:

  • Painted watercolor paper, at least 9″x12″
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Pressed leaf (smaller is best)
  • Wax paper
  • Iron and ironing surface
  • Razor-type paper trimmer (or scissors)
  • Hot glue gun
  • Hole punch
  • Handle from a paper shopping bag or brown- or green-wrapped florist’s wire from a craft store (or you could use a pipe cleaner)
  • Tea light (LED or real flame)
  • Glass votive holder or jar (if using a real tea light)
  • Thick, cushioned double-sided tape (if using a real tea light)

Instructions:

On the back side of the painted watercolor paper, use a ruler and pencil to draw a line going all the way across the long way about an inch from the edge. Cut 1″ wide fringes up to the line, all the way across the paper. (The fringes will be about as tall as they are wide; see second picture below.)

Iron a pressed leaf between two pieces of wax paper on the lowest heat setting. Then trim the fused-together wax paper so there is some space around the leaf.

In the center of the painted paper on the back side, trace around the wax paper piece. Using a razor paper trimmer, make a cutout inside of the traced shape, leaving at least 1/4″ all the way around. (In other words, the opening in the lantern needs to be somewhat smaller than the wax paper shape. Save the painted paper cutout; it will be the bottom of the lantern.

Put a line of glue around the edges of the cutout (still on the back side), and adhere the wax paper leaf so the duller side of the leaf is facing you. Since hot glue dries very quickly, you’ll need to do the gluing in quick, small segments.

Roll the paper into a cylinder with the fringes at the bottom. Glue the overlapping edges by running a thin line of glue from bottom to top to hold the cylinder together. (Again, work quickly, gluing a small segment at a time.)

Fold the fringes inward toward the center so they almost form a base (with some space at the center). Then cover them quickly with hot glue, and press the painted paper cutout on top (with the painted side facing you). Quickly turn it so the base is resting on your tabletop surface, and press down with your fingers to adhere the base to the fringes. Trim the base for a neat, finished look.

Next, make two holes with a hole punch or a pencil point close to the top of the lantern. The holes should be opposite each other. Attach whatever type of handle you’re using through the two holes. If you’re using a paper shopping bag handle or wrapped wire, either twist or glue each end together, to fasten securely.

If you intend to light the lantern with a real flame, attach a votive candle holder or glass jar to the lantern base by using a small piece of double-sided tape, and fit a tea light inside.

Be careful not to leave your lit lantern unattended, or use an LED tea light for no worries! The lanterns bring such beautiful light and ambiance to a room! Enjoy!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 
Practicing Gratitude

Practicing Gratitude

This morning I got up in time to experience the sunrise, and while I was waiting to witness the first rays of this new day, I was inspired to share with you how a simple practice of gratitude has transformed my life. But first, the sunrise. Ahhh – such peace.

 

I have kept a journal on and off throughout my life, but several years ago it occurred to me that I tended to use it as a tool for venting my frustrations – and that if someone were to read it someday, s/he might get the impression that I was a very unhappy person, which was not the case. I didn’t want to leave behind that kind of legacy in print.

Somewhere I came across the idea of keeping a gratitude journal. The idea was to spend a few moments at the end of each day writing down five things for which I am grateful. It is simple to do and only takes a minute or two. However, this practice has had profound effects on my life over the past five or more years that I have been doing it.

I select a journal that strikes me as beautiful and feels good in my hands. I prefer journals with pages that can lay completely flat. The one shown below has a pocket in the back that is handy for holding ticket stubs, photos, notes, etc. I also use a pen that writes smoothly and feels good to hold. The experience of keeping a gratitude journal needs to be inviting. It may or may not involve a cup of herbal tea. (Usually it doesn’t, but I like the idea.)

 

Pausing to recall positive experiences and impressions is a lovely way to end the day. I fall asleep focused on happy thoughts rather than anxieties. This makes for better sleep.

I write down anything that struck my fancy or uplifted me during the day: Conversations with family members, the earthy smell of a homegrown tomato, the proud smile on a student’s face when he showed me how he learned to write the number five, comfortable clothes, eating a pomegranate, holding my husband’s hand while taking a walk, a smile from a stranger, the sound of my children’s laughter, heated car seats, the aroma of bread baking, having a washing machine – anything at all. When feeling down, it is comforting to open up my gratitude journals and remember all that has brought a smile to my heart. Some days (for example, when I am tuned to the “overwhelm” channel) it is more difficult to think of things for which I am grateful, and the list may consist simply of: good health, electricity, warm house, plenty of food, and a steady paycheck. But think about it: These basic things are tremendous blessings! Consider food: 47% of the world’s population doesn’t have food security! Sometimes it’s useful to acknowledge and appreciate these fundamental blessings that may go unnoticed on other days. Doing so is a surefire antidote to feeling sorry for oneself.

 

I find that when I set the intention to write in my gratitude journal each evening, my mind is busy looking for examples throughout the day. The result is that I notice more of the good stuff than I did prior to keeping a gratitude journal. Noticing is the first step. When you are able to notice, you can more fully savor the positive elements of your day. I literally find myself stopping frequently to smell the flowers or take in a beautiful sight. My mind is being trained to catch the fleeting moments and really experience them as they happen. The journey is one of joy.

 

After practicing gratitude for several years, I find that I am a happier, more peaceful person. Even in the midst of a difficult situation, I can glance out the window and appreciate a bird flying by or a leaf twirling gracefully to the ground. They are like little teachers reminding me that beauty is all around, even when I’m knee-deep in muck. Attuned to gratitude, it is easier to put challenges into perspective and not give them too much weight. Most of the troubles with which we burden our minds are so petty!

At this point, keeping a gratitude journal is no longer necessary in order to more fully savor and appreciate the goodness of life; the compass of my awareness points in that direction. However, I still try to maintain this daily practice. I also focus on gratitude as I drive to work each morning.

 

Some people develop a grateful heart as a result of some kind of wake-up call in their life – perhaps an illness, injury, or loss of some sort. For me, I think it was financial hardship. At some point when my children were young, I came across the book, Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel, which helped to put things in perspective for me. Although it was published in 1994 and is now somewhat dated, it remains on my bookshelf, and I pull it out (along with my gratitude journals) when I feel my life situation is somehow deficient. This book features portraits of families from 30 different nations outside their homes surrounded by all of their possessions. In some portraits, there is little more than a few pots or jugs. Some families live in war zones with mortar shell holes blasted through their walls. What an eye-opener. After spending a few minutes with this book, I realize how privileged I am. Peter Menzel has a number of books out, and all of them are wonderful.

I remember hearing my friend, Al, tell me about a trip he took to Calcutta and how he saw children who were impoverished beyond belief radiating great joy while experiencing simple pleasures. Al, himself, is one of the most content people I know, despite having very few material possessions aside from an extensive record collection that brings him great joy. Likewise, my friend, Trish, and my daughter’s friend, Dionna, remind me to be truly grateful for good health.

Our lives are full of blessings that are often taken for granted. Something magical happens when we become more aware of the big and little things for which we can be grateful. Speaking from my own experience, life becomes a more joyful journey. Gratitude gives a buoyant quality to life.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Everyday Heroes

Everyday Heroes

Sometimes our light goes out, but it is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being.  Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.  -Albert Schweitzer 

Every morning, I take a few moments to give thanks for various blessings in my life, set an intention, and invite into my day enough guidance, support, mindfulness, and skill to manage my classroom and other interactions effectively. This morning when I woke up, my heart was filled with gratitude for the ways in which such guidance and support have manifested, and I feel compelled to write about a few people who make a positive difference in my life.

This school year has been exceedingly challenging for me thus far due to a number of factors, including: school reform mandates, challenging behaviors, increased class size, and limited human resources. I find solace in knowing I am not alone. Public school teachers all over the country – licensed, highly educated, experienced, committed, caring professionals – are feeling overwhelmed and disempowered by a system that is being driven by statisticians and politicians at the state and federal levels who in general appear to understand neither child development nor the realities of the classroom. That being the case, I want to acknowledge two angels in my professional life who provide me with valuable guidance and support through the storm. 

The first is Sally Haughey of the Fairy Dust Teaching blog. I knew the instant I visited Sally’s newborn, Waldorf-inspired blog nearly two years ago that she was a kindred spirit. When she began offering professional development courses online via her blog, I signed up for every one of them, hungry for the wisdom she offers so generously with regard to “soulful teaching.” She has been holding my hand all the way from Oklahoma for more than a year now and enriching my life both in and out of the classroom. I am grateful for her vision, passion, and inspiration and for the technology that makes such sharing possible.

Another small miracle in my teacher life is a community volunteer who is helping in my classroom every morning out of her sheer love for children. Peggy does not have any children in our district but is a retired high school teacher from another district who lives in the neighborhood. I didn’t know her until a connection was established via my administrators. Unless you are a teacher, you probably have no idea how much of a difference volunteers can make in the life of a classroom, especially now that the whole game has changed. If there is any way to help a school or teacher in your community, please consider doing so. It is becoming clear to me that some of the finest teachers are among those most seriously considering jumping ship, and you might be responsible for keeping one in the classroom.

Several years ago when I was in the midst of a graduate program in education, I encountered some obstacles that nearly caused me to abandon my dream of becoming a teacher. On my birthday, I had a powerful dream that has stayed with me all these years and filled me with confidence and optimism. In the dream, I was traveling on a road surrounded by water, and it was raining so hard that the road up ahead in the distance was flooded. I didn’t know how I’d ever get back to my car. When I finally reached the flooded area, I noticed there were several flotation devices off to the side, and I used one to get across. The point was that I couldn’t see these objects from the distance; they appeared when I was truly in need of them. The dream convinced me that there would be help available when I need it – help I would not be able to foresee. When circumstances seemed bleak, the memory of that dream helped me to push through.

The two women mentioned above are examples of the kind of help that becomes available in times of need. I never could have imagined or anticipated the gifts they would give me! They appeared all of a sudden as if out of nowhere.

Finally, I want to mention two other people whom I consider everyday angels and whose positive energy is infectious. The first is a man named Lorenzo who works on a road crew at a construction site I drive through every day. He is so friendly and animated and looks like he is having the best time managing traffic. Talk about positive vibes! It always makes me smile and feel good to see him. He’ll exclaim (even through closed windows), “What a beautiful smile! So great to see it!” when I drive by and wave back at him. He is like a performer interacting symbiotically with an audience, fueled by the energy that returns to him.

Today during a staff meeting, the presenter happened to mention Lorenzo and that he’d given him a gift card. Then we discovered that other staff members also have given him gifts or stopped to thank him for his incredible, uplifting energy. I considered taking an alternate route around the construction on my way to work in the morning but decided I’d rather leave a few minutes early and wait in traffic in order to experience Lorenzo’s extraordinary energy! When I mentioned his exuberance on Facebook, several people commented that his happiness fills them with happiness and excitement and that they go out of their way to see him. What a gift he bestows upon our little corner of the world! I wonder how far it ripples as each of us, uplifted by his cheerfulness, goes about our day.

No doubt the finger pointing at the left edge of this photo is attached to a smiling face!
Spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, explained that the first step toward finding more satisfying work is to change how you do what you’re already doing by bringing full presence to it. You radiate positive energy, and then perhaps somebody will notice how present you are and feel drawn to that. Then perhaps you will make a connection that leads to a new opportunity. Or perhaps the act of being present will breathe new life into the work you already do. I think of this when I drive through the construction site because that is the kind of energy Lorenzo radiates.

Addendum: Lorenzo’s smiles and greetings have created such a buzz and touched the hearts of so many people in our community that a couple articles have been written about him, and he recently was given the key to the city and made an honorary citizen “because of the unbridled joy he gives to all those who pass by him.” What an extraordinary example of the difference one person can make  through the power of a smile and simply being kind and loving to everyone he sees! 

And then there’s Bill, the crossing guard/custodian at our school – an older man who has got to be one of the sweetest, gentlest souls on this planet. Every morning, he greets me by name with a smile and a few words about the weather. I look forward to his daily greeting. On special holidays, Bill gives all the children candy canes or other small treats just to see their smiles. Truth is, he reminds me so much of my deceased grandmother, who also loved children and worked at a school. Last Christmas, I gave Bill a card that acknowledged how much his morning greeting means to me. I knew that if I didn’t communicate this to him, I would regret it someday.

Peace Pilgrim said, “Just as there are no little people or unimportant lives, there is no insignificant work.” By the very nature of the energy we put forth in the world, each of us has an effect on those with whom we come in contact, however briefly. Never underestimate the power of a smile or kind word to light up someone’s day. May we be a channel of blessings to others through the energy we emit throughout the course of our daily lives, and also be receptive to blessings that flow to us through the simple, caring actions of others!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

The Story of Patrick Cottonwood

The Story of Patrick Cottonwood

This year, I have spent much time observing the Eastern Cottonwood trees on the riverside and have fallen in love with them. They have amazing energy and a fascinating life cycle, and I want to share their story with you. Recently, I learned that cottonwood trees are sacred to the Lakota people and are central to the Lakota Sundance ceremonies. I experience cottonwood energy as quite powerful and therefore was not at all surprised to learn of the cottonwood’s significance to the Lakota.

Spring came early this year, and I was able to start kayaking in March, which was unprecedented. I took a lot of photos of trees along the shore, to share images of tree life cycles with my students on our SMART Board. Actually, I was quite blown away by noticing that leaves in spring begin with colors quite similar to the colors of autumn. (How can it be that it took nearly half a century for me to notice or remember this?) I photographed maple, oak, and willow trees and a mystery tree that took a while to identify. The mystery tree turned out to be an Eastern Cottonwood.

First came the buds.

The buds continued to grow

 

…developing more scales.

 

When I showed my kindergartners the photo below, they loved the “starfish” and began calling it the “Patrick tree,” after a starfish character in the SpongeBob cartoon. After seeing this picture, they made a habit of asking if I had more pictures of the Patrick tree. Naming the tree was a very important development, which came entirely from the children. Once the tree had a name, it seemed to come alive and become interesting to them. Even I began to think of Patrick as a personality and wanted to learn more about him.

 

I still didn’t know what kind of tree Patrick was but continued to photograph his changes. Next, the catkins developed –  drooping strands of tiny flowers.

 

 

 
 
 
Eventually, tiny leaves came out and began to unroll. 
 
 
 
The leaves continued to grow, appearing shiny and waxy at first.
 

 

 

At this point, I had become downright intrigued with the “Patrick” tree, did some research, and was able to identify him as a cottonwood. The next day, I went to school, excited to tell the children that I learned Patrick’s last name. He has been “Patrick Cottonwood” ever since, and I just love that name!

Patrick Cottonwood’s leaves continued to grow in size and deepen in color, losing their waxy sheen.

 

I have read in multiple sources that one of the reasons why the cottonwood tree is considered sacred is because its leaves provided a pattern for the tipi. According to The Cottonwood Tree: An American Champion by Kathleen Cain, Lakota (Sioux) holy man, Black Elk, explained that children began making little play houses from cottonwood leaves, which inspired the elders to construct tipis. In addition, if an upper branch of a cottonwood tree is cut, the cross-section reveals a five-pointed star (which seems to explain the five-pointed starfish pattern of the buds).

 

I read that cottonwood trees are either male or female, and that the name “cottonwood” derives from the appearance of the female cottonwood tree in fruit stage. I was eager to see which cottonwood trees would go through this stage in late spring. Patrick didn’t, which meant he was, indeed, male. But here is a photo of a tree across the river from Patrick producing green fruits that contain cottony seed clusters quite similar to milkweed. The children named this tree “Fluffy.”

 

I explained to the children that Fluffy was Patrick’s girlfriend, and he sent gifts (pollen) to her through the wind, and then she would reciprocate by becoming cottony and releasing cottony seed fairy babies into the air when the little fruits opened. Patrick and Fluffy love to give each other gifts!

 
 
On windy days in late spring, I enjoyed stopping to float near the cottonwoods and watch the seed fairies fly into the wind. (Fortunately, I seem to have outgrown my pollen allergy.)
 
 

Here (below) is Patrick, living peacefully on the riverside. Cottonwoods are similar to aspens in that their leaves quiver and rustle in the wind. When I approach Patrick Cottonwood by kayak, he is an endearing sight because it looks like his heart-shaped leaves are waving hello and beckoning me to pay him a visit – which I do. I rest for a while beneath his canopy of leaves. This is one of my peaceful places where I bring my questions and often find answers. Patrick teaches me a great deal about patience.

 

Patrick looks pretty much the same throughout the summer.

 

But now, on the first day of autumn, his leaves have begun to turn gold, much like human hair turns gray with age and wisdom.

 
 
Soon he will be completely golden and then will release his leaves throughout October until a late October breeze comes along and leaves him bare. And then he will take a long nap. When he awakens, the fascinating process will begin again – one big circle that includes a time for rest. As I watched what seemed like millions of cottonwood seeds floating on the river back in late spring, I wondered where the new generation of cottonwoods would make their home. Only time will tell.
 
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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Monarch Magic

Monarch Magic

When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take that step into the darkness of the unknown we must believe that one of two things will happen: There will be something solid for us to stand on or we will be taught to fly.   Patric Overton

Ever since I began teaching kindergarten, my husband and I have made a tradition of searching milkweed plants for monarch caterpillars over Labor Day weekend, right before the school year starts. The goal is to collect a few caterpillars so my students can observe the dramatic and colorful  transformation from caterpillar to butterfly; however, it is an activity we truly enjoy doing together each year. My husband has fond memories of his mother packing him a picnic lunch before he headed out to look for monarch caterpillars as a child, and he cherishes the opportunity to continue this tradition with me. Observing the monarch life cycle is a magical way to begin kindergarten and a powerful reminder of the potential for transformation and transcendence. There are so many metaphors to be found in the monarch life cycle, and it is interesting to notice which ones resonate most strongly each year.

Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed leaves, and when the caterpillars hatch they begin eating the leaves, which is their entire diet. During August, we note the locations of the most promising milkweed patches. Some years, despite a great deal of effort, we come up empty handed. Last year was such a year. We didn’t find any monarch caterpillars but returned home with a great story. After combing all of the known milkweed patches, we expanded our search along the country roads near our home and noticed an impressive field of milkweed across the street from a farmhouse. Feeling both desperate and adventurous, we decided to knock on the door and ask permission to look for monarch caterpillars in the field. The old man who came to the door obliged our request; however, the grass was so tall that we gave up soon after beginning. On our way back to the car, the man came back outside to ask us if we had any luck, and we ended up having a lovely heart-to-heart conversation with him about life in this day and age. I wish we could have filmed him talking. He was a retired dairy farmer and spoke about how much better farming is in Canada because farmers get paid better and can afford to maintain their property and equipment, which is not the case here. He really opened up to us and talked about his perception that too much damage has been done to this country by greed, and said he is not sure we can fix it at this point. It was such a joy to interact with this kindhearted man and to hear an old farmer share his wisdom. A couple times during the conversation, I actually found myself choking back tears because I felt my grandmother’s spirit coming through him quite powerfully. (Her urn is decorated with a pastoral farm scene, paying tribute to her Vermont roots and her love of Vermont farm life, which was an important chapter of her life.) Without ever mentioning this to my husband, as we were driving home he remarked that he felt my grandmother’s presence during that conversation. That is one caterpillar mission I always will remember.

This year, however, we saw several monarch caterpillars and butterflies the week prior to Labor Day and knew we would be successful in fulfilling our goal of collecting caterpillars.

Sure enough, when it was time, we ended up collecting seven caterpillars. We begin by looking for tender, green milkweed leaves that have some holes eaten through them. We also look for droppings. Often, the caterpillars munch on the underside of milkweed leaves and thus are cleverly hidden, so we need to look for clues suggesting their presence. We squat down low to the ground to see the underside of the leaves.

This year, we found three large, plump caterpillars that looked like they were nearly ready to turn into chrysalises and were likely to do so before school started. We also collected four very small caterpillars so the children would be able to observe the active larva (caterpillar) stage.

We put the caterpillars and some milkweed into a butterfly tent with mesh sides and a transparent top that zips open. The very hungry caterpillars munch their way through leaves until they have had their fill and somehow know it is time to enter the next stage of their life cycle. I am amazed and inspired by this part of the process and how the caterpillars know when it is time to change. I wonder how often the human capacity to think suppresses an inner knowing that it is time for us to change. How often do we convince ourselves to resist doing something different that would result in living a more authentic life because we are so used to a particular way of being – and it feels too risky to do otherwise?

Each in his or her own time, the caterpillars climb up the walls of the tent to the top, and eventually begin making a silk button from which to hang. The caterpillar hangs in a “J” shape for a large portion of a day before turning into an emerald-jade green chrysalis by molting its skin. The skin, which has become too tight, begins to split around the bend of the “J,” and the caterpillar wraps itself into a chrysalis. It wiggles and jiggles its way into the chrysalis stage.

This year, all of my caterpillars managed to turn into chrysalises when I wasn’t looking. The link below will bring you to a wonderful, real time video of a caterpillar turning into a chrysalis. My students have asked to watch it over and over again:

Monarch Metamorphosis: Caterpillar to Chrysalis in Real Time

The monarch chrysalis is an elegant sight – an emerald green case embellished with numerous, patterned golden dots, like a jeweled crown.

 

 

For about ten days, the green chrysalises hang, quiet and still. The children check the butterfly tent every day when they enter the classroom to see if a butterfly has appeared. Throughout the week, the chrysalis fades gradually in color until it becomes transparent, like a window. Although this is the time when the least activity appears to be taking place, it is a powerful time of metamorphosis. It reminds me of the human potential for great transformation to take place during periods of stillness.

In time, the chrysalis splits open, and the butterfly emerges. This was just beginning to happen when I entered my classroom this morning, and I grabbed my camera quickly!

The butterfly lowers itself out of the pupal case, extends its legs, and clings to the pupal case.

The abdomen is swollen with fluid that needs to be pumped into the tiny wings to help them expand.

 

Eventually, the wing tips will fill with fluid.

And then the butterfly will wait for its wings to stiffen and dry.

After several hours, the adult butterfly will be ready to fly. The monarch butterflies born in our area at this time of year will migrate to Florida, Eastern Texas, or Mexico and gather on trees that are literally covered with monarch butterflies. It is amazing to think that such small, delicate wings will carry them thousands of miles on a rigorous journey and that each butterfly somehow is able to find his or her way!

 

When it is time to release a butterfly from our butterfly tent, I gather the children on the playground outside our classroom and let the butterfly perch on their fingers if it is not in too much of a hurry to try out its wings for the first time. The expressions of wonder and joy on the children’s faces are priceless, as is the gentleness with which they pass the butterfly along to the next classmate and the sincerity and hope with which they wave and exclaim, “Fly, butterfly, fly!” This is an authentic learning experience that leaves an impression on the soul that no assessment tool could ever measure.

It is a truly magical way to begin the year, and I continue to be inspired and fascinated by the process every year.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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