The last autumn leaves have long since fallen from the trees, thanks to our recent winter storms. While the weather is unusually warm for December (almost January), we have seen single-digit highs in recent weeks. With the ground too frozen to dig now, we in colder climes have left stray potatoes, weeds, and annuals in the ground and retreated into the warm recesses of our homes for the long, dark winter months. Wrapped in our cocoons, we await sunshine and fairer days.
My cocoon is closely woven around me. Wrapped in a warm sweater with my black cat, Puff, as my “muse,” I light a maple brown sugar candle that my husband and I bought on our Columbus Day getaway this past fall. Its sweet aroma reminds me of the fiery autumn display of the Berkshires and our recent holiday baking. Under the candle is a gardening book aptly entitled, One Magic Square – a not-so-subtle reminder that being a gardener is not about the size of your garden but the fact that you simply have started gardening and that the process of seed becoming tomato plant is, indeed, magical. Just add sunshine, water, and hope.
I daydream of childhood when I lay in the grass with my friends, gazing at the fluffy cumulus clouds of July and August, imagining them as long-departed pets staring down at us from a deep, blue summer sky. We felt like there was all the time in the world to just be, and we knew nothing of life’s trials. We were free.
My maiden days have long since passed, and my matron days are soon to close, with the youngest of my three boys in his final teen year. Turning the pages into the crone chapter of my life is a process and, admittedly, not one I began happily. Right now, however, my cocoon is cozy and is a safe place to transform and prepare for the next phase of my life.
A caterpillar focuses its days on the right now, eating, finding sunshine to warm itself, and shady spots to hide itself to rest. It grows, sheds its skin, and grows some more. Like our childhood selves, it does not think about tomorrow but lives each day in the present, enjoying the sunshine and endless summer days. Time stands still.
At some point, however, there is the inkling that things are about to change. Perhaps there is a subtle change in the amount of sunshine or a dip in the air temperature. The caterpillar stops searching for food and starts searching for a more permanent shelter – someplace it can create its cocoon. Does it know what is about to occur? Does it understand that its existence as a caterpillar will soon end? I’ve often felt that our children become reminders that time is passing. Where once sat a chubby toddler now stands a teenager with gangly limbs and an awkward gait. Our hearts remain youthful, yet the change in our offspring tells a story of passage. We shift our hope onto our children. Our hope takes life in them as they grow and change. The matron years are ones of nurturing and providing and sheltering and giving.
So here I am, in my winter cocoon, my matron-to-crone cocoon. Like the caterpillar in its cocoon, I feel I am becoming something me, yet not me. My essence will remain the same, but what will emerge at the end of this season will be something new, unique, and wonderful, fully equipped for the next stage of life. What happens in the cocoon, I wonder? Will my very fibers untangle and reknit in a new and magnificent way, like the caterpillar-butterfly creature? Is that the meaning of the salt-and-pepper hair or the shift of my tissues into a rounder, softer form? Instead of the pain of resisting the change, should I embrace it and receive these gifts as a “crown of glory” that I have earned along with the wisdom of experience? When I emerge, will I travel to faraway places? Will others draw hope from my new form? Will my days be full of the beauty of gardens and forests, flowers and fields?
This cocoon, this winter, is different for me. The hope I have sown, like seeds, into my sons has taken root and transformed them into fine, successful young men with their own families. I am peaceful and welcome the transformation into the wise crone. Through trials, hard work, and perseverance, I have earned all I am and will become. Whatever form I emerge in, I will be fully equipped for the days ahead. The songs that I hum silently to myself in my cocoon today, I will sing out loud in the days to come. The hope I once sowed into my growing sons, I will sow into words on a page, into embraces, into golden days with the love of my life, into meals to share with others, into seed in the ground. My wings will spread gloriously, and I will once again be free.