In the field guide, the butterflies are organized by shape just as in field guides of flowers and trees. Just as all things in nature are known by their cups, their serrated edges, their tents, their folds and lengths. I flip through white silhouettes on black glossy pages. There’s an entire section of skippers and another of fritillaries.
I find the summer azure I was looking for. I read about its ant song–that notes that sound exactly like a queen ant calling her minions. I read about the sweet secretions of its larval stage, a honeydew liquid irresistible to ants. The ants will come and lick the caterpillar and protect her on the host plant while she dines on its leaves and flowers. In my garden, the host is New Jersey Tea.
Sometimes in winter if the caterpillar is still unchanged, the ants will invite her into their colony underground, where she’ll feast on their larvae, bite after bite, and the ants, still under the spell of her songs and her sugary soup, will continue to lick and groom and protect her like a giant baby.
I mark my place in the field guide with a torn piece of my daughter’s old math workbook and wake my children early. It’s the first day of 4th grade for my daughter and the first day of high school for my son.
They eat the French toast sticks I’ve plated up for them. I’d pre-made a few batches of them over the weekend and frozen a couple of freezer bags full, enough for breakfasts all week. My daughter has never had French toast sticks and thinks I’ve given her some battered strips of tofu. Their sweetness surprises her. Both kids devour them, then leave for their bedrooms.
I cook all the meals around here, and I bake all the birthday cakes and the cookies we give out to friends and family at Christmas.
Sometimes I wonder what my husband would do were I to die before him. Would he order take out every night, heat up frozen pizza or cans of soup? How would he fare should I die this week?
When he appears in the kitchen, I ask if he’s glad he married a woman who enjoyed cooking. What would you do if I wasn’t such a woman? Or if something happened to me and you had to take over? I say.
I’d be the cook, my husband says. You hijacked dinners from day one and the budget too. It’s not like I had a choice. Besides, you’re forgetting about all my restaurant experience. I’d be fine.
Ok, I say. If something were to happen to me, you and the kids would eat, but you wouldn’t be able to pay the bills. You don’t know any of the passwords.
The field guide doesn’t discuss what happens to the actual ant queen when the summer azure moves in. Does the azure replace her? Do the ants lead her to the royal throne, saying, Here…sit in this chair? Or does the queen also fall under her spell and become a servant herself?
I make a mental note to include my husband next time I pay the mortgage, the water and electric and internet bills, the credit cards, the car insurance. Show him my list of passwords and websites.
Another thing I sometimes wonder is whether or not my husband would marry again should I die and how the kids would handle another mother. I think I would want someone to succede me, to help out, to care for them all. But what if some irresistibly sweet-smelling woman came into our home, took my place in bed, and like the summer azure destroyed my babies?
My husband is a careful person. He’s not easily fooled, I tell myself.
I’ve taken the day off from work. I have an appointment with my dentist in the afternoon and months of sick leave that I’ll lose if I don’t use. Once the kids are at school, I walk out to the garden and find the azure caterpillars in the clusters of the tea flowers. They’re tiny, like slivers of chewed-off thumbnails, and all seven of them are surrounded by black ants. I watch the dance of ants attending, taking care, while the caterpillars chew the flowers down to their stalks.
Our yard is beautiful today, green and full, neat and tidy. This is because my husband is an expert with the edger and the weed eater. There are perfect piles of fallen branches topped with leaf litter lining the trails in our woods. My husband has made them–a path of hügelkulturs for the forest to seed as it likes. He makes the trails; he mows around the gardens. He shapes the land. I can build a beautiful garden, but when my husband leaves for business and his chores fall to me, I can barely maintain what he’s done. And sometimes he tops the dead trees in our woods before they become a hazard. He uses climbing gear to scale them and a system of pulleys to raise and lower an electric chainsaw. Seeing him up there–higher than the roof of our house, a speck on the trunk of a dead tree–makes my heart stop.