Eclipse

A silvery light
takes over the day,
a visible gloom
thought by the ancients
to presage disaster:
the forces of darkness
gathering.

I would not stare
into the sun
even blotted out
lest it blind me
like the face of God.
But all around me
are His works.
Let us cease
our petty striving,
and rest for a while
in this fold of time
to give due reverence.

By Anne Whitehouse

solar eclipse


Anne Whitehouse is the author of six poetry collections, most recently Meteor Shower, her second from Dos Madres Press (2016). Her novel Fall Love has just been published in Spanish translation as Amigos y Amantes. 2016 honors include Songs of Eretz’s, RhymeOn!’s, Common Good Books’, and Fitzgerald Museum’s poetry prizes. Visit her at AnneWhitehouse.com.

Solar eclipse photo by John Butler.

The Plum Tree

For my grandchildren, Bella, Jett, Eleanor, Max, Emmanuel and James

Look little ones,
the leaves have turned yellow,
the sky is pure blue,
the day mild and mellow.

Look little ones,
the trees are now bare,
there’s frost in the morning
and cold everywhere.

Look little ones,
there’s buds on the trees,
flowers are blossoming
and buzzing with bees.

Look little ones,
in this blossoming blooming
the cycle of life
is forever renewing.

By Neil Creighton

drawing of a plum tree
Sketch of a plum tree in blossom by the author’s late mother, Brenda Creighton


Neil Creighton is an Australian poet whose work as a teacher of English and Drama brought him into close contact with thousands of young lives, most happy and triumphant but too many tragically filled with neglect. It also made him intensely aware of how opportunity is so unequally proportioned and his work reflects strong interest in social justice. Recent publications include Poetry Quarterly, Poeming Pigeon, Silver Birch Press, Rat’s Ass Review, Praxis Mag Online, Ekphrastic Review, Social Justice Poetry and Verse-Virtual. He blogs at windofflowers.blogspot.com.au

Monarch Summers

boy watching butterfly in glass globeIn late summer, my children and I search for caterpillars. The milkweed is thigh-high at this time, with fragrant mauve flower clusters swelling into rotund seed pods. When we see leaves that are missing great chunks of green flesh, we peer underneath of them, hoping to find a fat yellow-, black-, and white-striped caterpillar hiding there. When we do find one, we bring it home and place it, along with a good handful of its milkweed host, in our butterfly jar, a bulbous vase of blown glass, to complete its cycle of eating and growing and transforming into a monarch butterfly.

The caterpillars we find here in Maine are the fourth or fifth generation of the summer, the children and grandchildren of monarch butterflies born the southern United States earlier in the season, and the great- or great-great-grandchildren of butterflies born somewhere in the northern US or southern Canada the previous summer. Each of the summer generations of butterflies lives only two to six weeks, but our little caterpillars, the winter generation, will have a lifespan of eight months if they survive the many obstacles they will face over the coming winter. When our caterpillars become butterflies, they will embark a two-thousand-mile journey south to their roosts in the mountains of central Mexico, where they will cling to oyamel fir trees, as many as fifteen-thousand butterflies to a branch, for the winter months. In the spring they will fly to north and lay eggs on milkweed in northern Mexico or southern Texas, passing on their genes to the next generation before they die.

The first caterpillars we raised came to us eight years ago in a pickle jar stuffed with milkweed, a gift from my father-in-law. Already overwhelmed by my two one-year-olds and kindergartner, I couldn’t cope with taking care of one more living thing, so I stuck the jar on top of a cabinet in our living room and forgot about it. It turned out that caterpillars do not need much taking care of and, after a week or so, I noticed the caterpillars were gone, replaced by two exquisite green chrysalises hanging from the sloped shoulder of the glass. Pupae, safely sewn up in their cases, I could handle. I emptied out moldering leaves and frass–caterpillar poop–and moved the jar to the windowsill above the kitchen sink so that we wouldn’t miss the emerging butterflies.

Monarch butterflies, like many insects—those in the so-called “higher orders”—go through four distinct life stages: egg, larva, pupa, adult. A female monarch may lay between one hundred and three hundred eggs, each on a separate milkweed plant. After about a week, the larva, or caterpillar, is born and, as its first act, eats its own eggshell before beginning on its feast of milkweed leaves. Caterpillars go through five stages, or instars, on their way to becoming adults. At the end of each instar, the caterpillar splits his skin and wiggles out, just a little bigger than before. The whole five-step process takes less than two weeks, at which time the caterpillar splits its skin one last time and forms the pupa.

The monarch butterfly pupa, or chrysalis, looks like a little jade pendant hanging by a small hook, called the cremaster, from a small silk pad that the caterpillar spun as a last act before wiggling out of its skin. The textures on the surface of the pupa correspond with structures of the adult butterfly—ridges along the curved top reflect abdominal segments, the smooth sloping side houses the wings, and the curved bottom cradles the head. The pale green pupa looks as if it has been gilded along the ridge where the curved top meets the sloped side, and in dots near the bottom, giving the chrysalis its name, from the word Greek chrysos, or “gold.” After about ten days, the pupa appears to turn black, but closer inspection reveals that the darkness is the butterfly’s wings visible through the clear outer covering. Each time one of our pupae reaches this point, the boys and I begin to watch the chrysalis closely, hoping to see the moment the butterfly emerges—or ecloses—but we usually only catch it after it’s already fanning its wings dry, leaving behind the clear, plastic-like husk and a few drops of dark fluid in the bottom of the jar.

Monarch chrysalis

The day our first butterflies emerged was one of those hectic days that so often characterize life with kids. The twins were sick and cranky. One of them pounded on the other’s head with the wooden hammer from their toy cobbler’s bench. The other one may or may not have eaten the back half of a live wasp. The school nurse called to tell me my oldest son had fallen and bumped his head and, while she thought he was fine, she was going to send home information on concussions. In the early afternoon, having settled fussy, post-nap twins with a snack and turning my attention to washing dishes, I saw a flash of orange out of the corner of my eye. One of the monarchs had emerged, a large, orange-and-black butterfly opening and closing its four perfect wings like the pages of a book. I helped it out of the slippery glass jar with a stick and placed it on a milkweed plant in the yard, and then I moved the jar out onto the deck in case the other butterfly eclosed while the twins and I walked up the long driveway to meet the school bus.

When we got back to the house, we found the second butterfly perched on a twig in the jar, looking horribly deformed, its wings small and shriveled, the ragged orange-and-black train of a Halloween bride. I gently stroked the soft, broken wings, certain I had done something terribly wrong, and placed the butterfly on the milkweed in our yard, near its healthy comrade, so it could at least live out the last minutes or hours of its life in its natural habitat. The twins napped in their stroller while I played soccer with my oldest son. After a while, I went back and checked the milkweed plant and found two beautiful, butterflies with smooth, straight wings. I must have caught the second butterfly moments after it emerged from its chrysalis, before it had a chance to pump hemolymph into its wings, inflating them into smooth, crisp planes. I had not killed it. It had a chance to fly to Mexico and transfer its genes to another generation.

butterfly on red flower

After that year, we began raising monarchs every summer. Though they did not actually split their skins like caterpillars, my children became new again and again. The twins emerged from the chaotic toddler instar. No longer did I have to admonish “Gentle touch” whenever we went into the natural world. At the same time, I became more relaxed, less overwhelmed by motherhood. Raising monarch caterpillars became a joy, not a burden, and the boys became adept at finding caterpillars and even chrysalises on milkweed plants. Our most prolific season came two years ago, when the twins were seven and their brother eleven. Whenever we went out into open fields, we came upon monarch caterpillars. We brought two or three inside to grow in our butterfly vase, leaving the others to take their chances in nature. That fall, weeks after the butterflies we had raised headed south for the winter, I was walking at the arboretum across the street from my office when I saw a bedraggled butterfly flutter drunkenly over a field. She stopped for a brief moment on a tiny milkweed plant, dipped the tip of her abdomen against a leaf, and flew off again on tattered wings.

I crouched near the plant and saw that the poor creature had left behind a single egg, ridged and pearlescent, a tiny jewel. The mother butterfly looked like she had narrowly escaped a paper shredder, and I wondered if laying this egg were her last act before dying or if she continued to lurch through the field, planting tiny pearls. The milkweed plant she had chosen was just a baby, barely longer than my hand, with thumb-sized leaves; it would never be enough to feed a growing caterpillar. I pinched off the plant, brought it home with me, and placed it in a tiny vase in the windowsill. I would give this little monarch a chance to at least attempt the flight to Mexico, even if it was ridiculously late in the season.

After about a week, the egg was gone, leaving behind only a gluey white dot on the leaf. I thought at first the egg had shriveled up, but my husband pointed out to me the very tiny caterpillar, scarcely as long as my pinky-nail is wide, nibbling away at the milkweed leaf, leaving behind pepper-grain-sized dots of frass. The boys and I were excited about our minute caterpillar, inspecting him through the magnifying glass, watching his progress nibbling away at his miniature milkweed leaves. Then one morning, a few days after he hatched, our little caterpillar was gone. In his place was an equally tiny praying mantis, and on the windowsill below, a caterpillar-sized poop.

The children reacted to the loss of their pet philosophically, and generously relocated the mantis to a plant outdoors. Had he survived the praying mantis attack and grown into an adult butterfly, our little caterpillar would have faced innumerable other dangers over the winter, not the least of which was the very late start he would have gotten on his flight to Mexico. While the cardenolide poisons the caterpillars ingest from eating milkweed plants, along with the bright colors of the butterflies’ wings that serve as a warning, protect monarchs from most vertebrate predators, a few species of birds have found their way around these defenses, as has one species of mouse that inhabits the forests in Mexico where the monarchs overwinter. A number of parasites as well as bacteria and viruses prey on monarchs too. If the butterflies survive the predators and the germs and the winter in Mexico, they still have to contend with the vagaries of weather the following spring as they make their journey north to mate and lay eggs. Even without the praying mantis, our butterfly’s great-great-grandchildren would probably have not found their way to Maine the next summer. As it turned out, few butterflies made their way north at all.

boy looking at caterpillar with magnifier

Last summer, when we went looking for monarch caterpillars, we found none. I saw a single monarch butterfly drifting high over a field in July, early in the season, and one of my sons saw another one at daycare, “With bird strikes on its wings,” he told me. Unlike the previous year of abundance, we found no signs of caterpillars. We studied the milkweed at home and at the arboretum for signs of nibbling, but chewed-on leaves revealed only the black-and-orange brush-like larvae of the milkweed tussock moth.

Since the twins were one, our summers had been measured in monarch butterflies. I had taken for granted that we would continue to capture and raise caterpillars right through my own children’s pupation and emergence as adults. Perhaps the butterflies’ absence last summer was just a blip in their population dynamics and they’ll be back this year. But researchers found overwintering populations in Mexico the previous winter to be at their lowest level in decades. They attribute the decline to hotter than normal weather and farming practices that destroy milkweed. I fear that my children and I have raised our last monarch caterpillar. I wonder if we will ever again see a magnificent orange-and-black butterfly drift on the breeze, or if those few summers keeping caterpillars in a vase will be as fleeting as summer itself.

Monarch caterpillars on milkweedIn September, I walked to the arboretum during my lunch break one day and combed the fields for any sign of monarchs. The hum of traffic and road construction faded as my ears filled with cricket song, swaying tree branches, and the occasional scraw of a blue jay. The yellow sprigs of goldenrod had faded to dusty seed tufts, but the asters bloomed in a half-dozen shades of purple and ranged in size from dime to silver dollar. They should have been inviting blooms to nectar-feeding monarchs. But the only winged insects I saw that day were yellow sulfur butterflies, little red meadow dragonflies, and bumblebees.

The leaves of the milkweed plants had started to brown and curl, and some of the seed pods had turned dry and brittle. I cracked one open to reveal the seeds, dark brown teardrops shingled together like a pinecone on one end of the pod, with the silver-white milkweed down laid out smooth as a mare’s tail at the other end. As I shook the seeds loose, each one unfurled its little silk parachute and took to the air. I snapped off the stems of two dried seed heads and tapped them together, releasing the seeds onto the breeze.

Once, as I looked up to admire three turkey vultures drift lazily on a thermal, I saw a single monarch butterfly rise on the same column of warm air. In the cant of its wings, its silhouette against the clear sky, the butterfly looked like a miniature version the massive birds soaring high above it, and I watched until it rose so high it vanished to a mere speck in the blue sheet of sky. I have also seen milkweed plants grow up through asphalt, tender green leaves cracking right through the tar. There is great power in small things.

Monarch with spread wings

It is a small act, raising a caterpillar in a jar. But it is an act of faith, in the ability of this insect that is smaller than the palm of my hand to overcome myriad obstacles to make a journey most of us would find exhausting by airplane. In the same way, bringing children into the world is an act of faith, that our loving presence can steer them safely through life’s hazards.

I can’t change farming practices in the Midwest. I can’t control the climate. I can’t bring the butterflies back through the force of my desire. Nor can I ensure my children’s survival or happiness. But I can spread the seeds of milkweed. And so I clap the brittle stems together and watch white clouds of down whirl across the field.


Andrea Lani writes at the nexus of nature and motherhood from her home in the Maine woods. Her writing has appeared in SaltFront, Brain, Child Magazine, Orion, The Maine Review, and other publications. She has an MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program and she is an editor at Literary Mama. More of her work can be found at Remains of the Day www.remainsofday.blogspot.com. “Monarch Summers” was previously published in the Spring/Autumn 2015 issue of the journal Snowy Egret. Photos by the author.

The Old Building Made Of Wood

I am walking into a wood
that is like an old building, crumbling
to the ground. Light spears
through where it’s not meant to.
Wind pinches the air, shaking
the summer out of the leaves
A kestrel lingers on the edge
with its ghost flapping wings.
I move with each press of foot,
feeling the hard cobbled earth
of roots and limbs. A buzzard
is pushed out of the trees,
birds separate themselves
from the wood. I become a lone
figure, walking with feet
that gain weight by losing light
each passing year.

By Gareth Culshaw

hiking rocky path through deep forest


Gareth lives in North Wales. He loves the outdoors especially Snowdonia. He is published in various magazines across the U.K. Visit his website here.

Photo by Jaromír Chalabala

Firefly: Light My Way

I find solace in observing my natural surroundings in my front and back yard. My house is surrounded by vast fields with many trees, plants and wildlife. I even see wildlife and other sights that most city-dwellers don’t tend to see such as coyotes, deer and even simple starry nights. All things that I love most about living in a more rural environment.

Like most people, I enjoy warm summer nights with nothing but the stars and sweet sound of crickets chirping, yet I can’t help but find myself waiting for just one month in particular. In late May, early June, as the sun sets and the skies turn black, the fields are lit up with the soft glimmer of fireflies. They dance to the song of the crickets and cicadas and mimic the sweet glow of the stars above.

 real fireflies at a calm nightAs I listen to the sweet sounds of summer and watch the dance of the fireflies, I begin to feel nostalgic. The mere site of these fireflies bring me back to my childhood where everything was so simple. Where my life was filled with wonder and awe. Where I was ignorant to the cruelty and hate in the world. For how could such cruelty exist in a world so beautiful and pure?

I can recall a memory of mine that allowed me to feel an extreme sense of connectedness with the nature found in my own front yard. It was the night following a catastrophic event where I sat, lonely and confused on the stairs of my porch. I remember peering into the dark fields feeling comatose wondering how the world could be so callous. The world lay silent with the exception of the forlorn whispers of the crickets. Their ballad complimented the tear drops that lay atop the freshly cut grass. I remember a faint smell of firewood burning in the distance that could only be detected when the gentle breeze caressed my face. I gazed up into the night sky that was as black as a raven’s coat. I sat, staring up into the sky while recalling old memories of a departed friend. I wished so desperately to be able to capture the large, orange-tinted full moon and feel the warmth of the surrounding stars on my skin.

As the night progressed, the breeze became more apparent and the temperature dropped as low as my spirits. I began to look back to the fields at the tall arundo donax and golden rod that surround the perimeter of the field. The shadow of the feather-like appearance on the top of the cane’s stem complimented the soft silhouette of the golden rod’s florets. They swayed back and forth in conjunction with the breeze’s rhythm. Their leaves rustling in the wind as they brush up against each other so carefree and effortlessly. Like a mother shushing her crying infant as if to console it; as if to console me.

I am brought back to reality when I feel a gentle touch of a glowing object on my skin. I gaze at its body as it turns from a simple black insect to an alluring shade of fluorescent yellow. The firefly’s glow is like a bright, yet subtle star that flickers in the night sky. At that moment, I couldn’t help but think that the firefly was reminding me to appreciate the simple, natural splendors that this world has to offer. After a few seconds the firefly took flight and rejoined the others within the fields once again. Subsequently, I went to bed pondering my encounter with this gentle creature.
sunrise over fieldThe following morning, I awoke to the tune of a new song. It was around 5:30 am when I turned my head towards the window to see a small beam of light peeking through my window shades. The sky was beginning to transition from a dreary night to a new day. At that moment I remembered the firefly that reminded to me to enjoy the simple things in life. So although I was still mourning, I decided to take the firefly’s advice and venture back to the spot where I had laid so dejectedly the night before.

I sat with a plush blanket around my body like a tight-knit cocoon on the steps of my porch. I watched as the sun pushed through the darkness and out from the fields below. The base of the sky just above the fields was a light periwinkle that extended up and faded into the deep purple and blue sky. There were also some purple-grey clouds that looked like cotton balls that had been pulled apart and fluffed. The large, dark orange sun emerged from the horizon with its golden rays extending throughout the fields. As its rays stretched, the field began to light up and glow as bright as the firefly. The golden rod that was once just a silhouette became a vibrant yellow with a contrasting green base. The leaves and each floret were now distinguishable with a perfect balance of long, thin, green leaves to clusters of small, complex yellow flowers. Each plant beginning to look as though they had a halo of light radiating from its core.

As the remainder of the field began to turn from a dark green shadow to many different shades of greens, purples, browns and white were now able to be seen—as though a veil had been lifted. Bright purple thistle, Queen Anne’s lace, large tufts of grass, small maple trees and milkweed that were previously hidden became apparent with the glow of the sun—now fully over the horizon but still low in the sky. With the sun’s transition, the sky became a light shade of purple and blue with the sun a bright yellow.
sparrow on grren branch
The light then reflected off of the subtle drops of dew on the grass as if it were a blanket of light laid upon each blade. The sound of the crickets no longer sounded disheartened. They were loud and filled with various tones and patterns, countered by the sweet melody of the sparrow and her children. Her whistle provided sound to the beauty of the sun and nature around me. As I watched her fly to her nest made of tan coloured, dried grass and twigs, I got a glimpse of her body. Her body was a light brown with delicate hints of dark browns, blacks, whites and orange-browns within her back feathers. As she glided her way towards her nest, she was greeted by her children who had been anxiously awaiting her arrival.

At this moment, the world felt like it was in perfect harmony. A unity between every living creature and radiance of the sun. I started to feel a sense of love and admiration, whereas the night before, I felt lifeless and disconnected from the world around me. I now feel calm and connected. Connected to the sparrow providing her children with nutrients and warmth, to the thistles that are vibrant yet sharp to the touch and even to the sky that had become brighter with each passing moment.

As more time passed, I began to recall the moment where the firefly landed on my hand. The firefly showed me that even in dark times, a small glimmer of light can help you through it. Because behind a dark sheath, there lies a beautiful world full of numerous sounds, colours, textures and scents—all working together as a single entity. This moment of realization has now become one of the most memorable times of my life. As I grew older, I started to lose touch with the nature that surrounded me. I became so consumed in a world full of social media and work that I forgot the simple, natural beauty of the earth. But I have since regained my connection to environment and all living and nonliving things in it.

I continue to find peace and serenity in the fields surrounding my home. Not only is the land around me striking, but it also fills me with joy and nostalgia. I love to reminisce and share my childhood memories and other major events that have happened in my life with nature’s melodies playing in the background—whether it be crickets chirping, coyotes howling, birds singing or even the rustling of leaves. Every piece of nature with a distinctive colour, shape, size and smell all come together and create this safe haven for me.

I will always remember and return to the spot where I have seen the most amazing natural marvels that are so dear to my heart. As for the fireflies; they will return next year and I will be looking forward to their long awaited arrival. Though here for such a short period of time, I find myself most connected to them each and every year.

I would like to say thank you to the firefly that was the light to one of my darkest days and for helping me, once again, find beauty within nature. Thank you for helping me regain my connection with the world and most of all, thank you for helping me find myself.


Photos by Fernando Gregory Milan, Sitthipong Inthason, and Grzegorz Gust