The Fable of the Caterpillar

At one time, caterpillars were just like the jibberjabs, the pillcrawlers, and the fatworms, and they all lived together on an island. Of the four, the caterpillars were the weakest, the slowest, and the most likely to be plucked off a branch and eaten. The jibberjabs emitted a shrill cry, and were about the size of today’s mouse, and were considered by all birds and scavengers to be the most obnoxious thing to be eaten, so they were left alone. The pillcrawlers slunk over the ground and came in all the sizes of a person’s foot–had there been people about to see them–and they stank so horrifically that even skunks made a wide berth about them. Finally, the fatworms were the length of a man’s forearm and three times as thick, and they crawled through the mud and wallowed in it like pigs, they were considered most unappetizing for they tasted as mud would, and were about as nutritious. And so, the caterpillars were general food for everything that did not want to eat a jibberjab, a pillcrawler, or a fatworm.

Because nothing was eating them, the jibberjabs consumed whole forests and chased the caterpillars to the worst of trees and bushes. The caterpillars, as they were smaller and could not hold up to an arguing match with jibberjabs, left the nice trees without much complaining. The pillcrawlers also overpopulated the ground and forced the deer and other game to seek out the lesser shrubs and bushes, and to keep from being inadvertently eaten, the caterpillars moved to the worst of the leaves. And, finally, the fatworms took to wallowing in mud at the trees and bushes the caterpillars lived in, tearing up the roots and killing the plants. The caterpillars lived in a desperate condition, and one caterpillar said to the rest, “We must think, or soon we shall all be dead. The jibberjabs have noise. The pillcrawlers have stench. The fatworms are just digusting. We must do something.”

They tried to think, but nothing came to any of them.

“Listen,” said one, “Unlike everything else, we can sleep long and deep and need no food while we rest. Let us eat up what else we may, and then go to sleep. Perhaps when we awaken there will be more leaves.”

And so it was agreed. Now, during sleep, one of the caterpillars had an idea–a wild, glorious idea. He woke up the others and explained it to them, “We should bind ourselves in our string, make our cocoons like we do for winter, and focus on growing wings. Then, we may fly away from here in search of better trees.”

Now, it took quite some convincing, but they agreed to try his outlandish idea, for they had no other ideas to try, and the leaves were only worse, and the environment around them had turned into a reeking, shrieking bog where nothing else wished to live. All the different caterpillars formed cocoons and slept. They awakened and broke through their shell with strange, long legs and unwieldy sails for wings. In the sunlight, they sat still and let the sun dry their wings, unfolding them into all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some chose to look like bark, others chose to be bright red and blue and orange. Some called themselves moths, others called themselves butterflies. Regardless of what they called themselves, all the deer and birds and other animals called them beautiful. Except, of course, the jibberjabs, the pillcrawlers, and the fatworms, who scoffed at anything not as unappealing as they were. They were ignored.

When the butterflies started on their migration, one of the deer stopped a moth and asked, “Where are you going?”

“Some place else,” answered the moth, “Some place where there are good trees and thick bushes and others like us who want to live.”

“Can I follow?” asked the doe, who was concerned for her twin fawns.

“Certainly,” said the moth. And so, a great migration took place, one not only of the caterpillars, but also of all the others. Except, of course, the jibberjabs, the pillcrawlers, and the fatworms, who believed there could be no good place, and that the mire they existed in was the only habitable place. Those creature who could not fly swam, or rode on those who could swim. The distance to the shore was not far, and so everyone arrived safe and sound on the mainland. They spread out and populated.

“Butterfly,” called a moth to the caterpillar who had suggested the wings idea in the first place, “What made you think to do this?”

“Well, moth,” said the butterfly, “I thought that should we become more hideous or gross, we would need to be worse than the others, and that would be quite a task indeed, and I hadn’t the heart for it anyway. I thought that if all the grossness in the world could not save the island, perhaps some beauty would.”


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