Tale of the caterpillar



Sitting under an oak in Conejo Community Park, I felt something plummet into my lap. I was wearing shorts, and the unidentified plummeting object began to inch across my thigh.

Curious naturalist or not, I thought “Hold it right there!” and went to swat the creature off my leg.

In mid-swat I stalled, for the creature was a half-inch-long caterpillar, dark chocolate brown with a cream-colored ridge of soft but spiky-looking hairs snaking across its back.

I’m not a huge fan of creepycrawly critters, but as this little fuzzball peered around—uplifting its forequarters and doing a dandy swivel—I let it be.

I named it Chaplin, because the caterpillar reminded me of a wandering version of the fake lip fuzz on Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character.

Chaplin adapted well to human exploration. He appeared very fond of my shirt, pausing to make a rotation around each buttonhole as if button-polishing was his trade.

Staring down at Chaplin I dipped my chin forward on my chest, and he hitched a ride across my chin to explore my cheeks and nose. The caterpillar really liked one of my eyebrows—must’ve reminded him of a fuzzy relative.

When Chaplin reached my forehead he made like a plough horse in a cornfield, struggling through my forehead’s deeply etched worry furrows.

By the time the caterpillar crept onto my scalp, I figured that was the last I’d see of him. But he exited atop my right ear and then wriggled his way onto the sleeve of my shirt. And there he stood upright on his hind quarters as if he was a victor in the race to the South Pole, ready to plant his flag of conquest for capturing my right shoulder.

The caterpillar held that pose a long while, periodically extending himself to his utmost length, pushing his jointed segments upward. What was he after?

Carefully I shifted around. A leafy branch of the oak was suspended over our respective heads. That must’ve been the little caterpillar’s goal, to return to the tree he’d tumbled out of. What a roundabout route he’d taken.

That close to Chaplin, I thought I spied his impatience and frustration. He couldn’t reach his tree because he’d traveled all that way up a child-sized human. Poor thing, he was in need of a big burly shoulder belonging to a 6-footer.

I shifted and squirmed but to no avail—the gap was too wide. Chaplin the displaced caterpillar needed a Lilliputian trampoline, or one good toss.

I supplied the latter.

“Hang on, Chaplin! Get a grip!” I said encouragingly as I lobbed the wee fuzzball into the air.

Nearby picnickers rolled their eyes.

On the fourth toss Chaplin managed to cling tightly to a dangling leaf, and instantly began advancing closer to his eventual transformation from creepy crawler to soaring beauty.

Glasser is a freelance writer and nature enthusiast. Reach her at whirlawaygig@gmail.com.