The Flying Caterpillar

Gilad Shadmon
Caterpillar and Butterfly

Spacer Once upon a time, there lived on an old mulberry tree, a group of caterpillars. They hatched from eggs, ate a lot of leaves and ended their lives as cocoons.

Spacer The caterpillars had a highly developed sense of sight but they never knew where the eggs came from nor how they were created. They assumed that they had originated from an egg since they had seen their younger brothers hatch from eggs. However, since the butterflies laid the eggs at night, they had no clue as to what their origin was.

Spacer The truth is that even if they could see at night, they wouldn't identify a butterfly, since a caterpillar only looks downwards, in the direction of the leaf it is eating. The butterflies, on the other hand, tend to hover above the leaves and seldom touch them and even then, do so only with the tip of their feet.
Spacer Most of the caterpillars never even cared where the eggs came from, or if there was life beyond the cocoon phase. They were busy eating the greenest leaves around. Their talks were mostly about finding the best way to get to the top of the tree, where the freshest and tastiest leaves were. The most successful caterpillar was the one who managed to get to the farthest and greenest leaf. Every once in awhile they had to leave the old mulberry tree and go on a long and weary journey to nearby tree, because the neighbour's leaf seemed greener. However, after a short rest, they were more than happy to go back to their good old tree and to the old familiar taste, the taste of the leaves that their ancestors had loved so much.

Spacer The caterpillars were afraid of two things only, a strong wind and birds of prey. A strong wind, especially one that comes unexpectedly could strongly shake the leaves of the tree and even its thin and fragile branches.
A young and inexperienced caterpillar who had not yet learned how to hold on tightly, could easily find himself floating in the air without any previous warning, on his short way to the ground. The few who were still alive after the trauma climbed back up with the remains of their strength and joined the group, but they never returned to the way they used to be. In fact, they turned into very strange caterpillars.

Spacer Some of them spoke about different types of hovering forms they had seen while falling. They called them butterflies. They described the shape and the color of these butterflies in such a way that none of the caterpillars not even the elderly, could understand. Instead of occupying themselves with the main goal, of climbing to the top, they began to lift their eyes upwards and ask strange questions such as: What material is the egg made of? or What happens to an old and satisfied caterpillar who turns into a cocoon? etc. The gang used to call them behind their backs: "the flying caterpillars."

Spacer Birds of prey would appear from nowhere, you could be peacefully eating the end of an especially juicy leaf, together with your best friend, when suddenly without any previous warning you saw a giant beak catch him by the neck and pull him up to the sky. Then you knew for sure that you would never see him again. Unlike the storm survivors, no caterpillar ever came back from the birds' land, not even the most cunning one.
Spacer The only measures the caterpillars knew against the birds were preventive measures. The elderly taught the young how not to be too conspicuous.
Spacer "You can hang on to a leaf on the bottom part," and elder would say to his younger pupil, "there the birds donít see you. However, there you are liable to fall with the first gust of wind. The second rule you should remember is that at the ends of the tree you are more exposed, so stay inside the denser part, near the center of the tree."
Spacer "And if I want to get to the top and taste a fresh green leaf?" the youngster would ask occasionally.
Spacer "Then you should know you are taking a great risk," answered the elder, "of falling, or of being eaten- up." The third rule the elder kept repeating was to move slowly. "No leaf ever runs away. So remember: whoever moves too fast, sometimes does not come back."

Spacer Avri hatched from a grey egg which was a sure way to get into trouble. Most of the caterpillars that hatched from grey eggs never had a chance to cocoon. In fact, the first question he asked when he hatched was:
Spacer "What is the shortest way to get to the top?"
Spacer The elder caterpillars tried to stop him in vain. He wanted to grow quickly and consequently made every mistake a caterpillar could possibly make.
Spacer He moved fast, ate leaves that he came across, close to the stem, and climbed them mostly upwards. He simply didn't have enough time to get to the back side of the leaf. He only had one goal -- to get to the top. Practically every caterpillar he had met on his way, advised him to slow down, to relax and to watch out, but he wouldn't listen.
Spacer For two and a half weeks he climbed branch after branch. His legs grew stronger, his jaw grew thicker and his nails grew sharper. He was rather thin, since he didn't manage to eat much, and because he put so much energy into the weary walk, but with every step he took upwards he saw more of the sunlight, which encouraged him.

Spacer The leaves became greener and through them he could see blue patches of the sky. He saw many caterpillars who had climbed halfway up the tree and stayed there. There were even fewer who were satisfied with getting to the top quarter of the tree. Very few had almost made it to the top, but stopped on the way. He found it very hard to understand them.
Spacer "You have put so much energy," he told them as he was walking, "why don't you try a bit harder and feel the taste of the summit."
Spacer He heard all sorts of excuses: I'm too tired, I'm hungry, the leaves here are the greenest anyway, there isn't really any tree top, the tree is growing much faster than our climbing pace, and more of this nonsense.
Spacer When he reached the highest leaf he saw a fat grey caterpillar chewing its end tranquilly.
Spacer "May I join you?" he asked politely.
Spacer "Sure," answered the caterpillar and kept on chewing.
Spacer That was his last word, since suddenly without any warning, he saw him getting away, twisting between the two black beak parts that held him.
Spacer Avri was so scared that his strong legs could not hold on to the leaf. The legend says that the beak tore the part of the leaf he had been sitting on, which helped to break the fall.

Spacer When he reached the ground he tried to understand what had happened. Although the fall lasted only a few seconds, so many beautiful things happened on the way, that his fear left him completely and instead turned into a great pleasure.
Spacer First he saw the other caterpillars who were busy eating while their heads were turned downwards. He called them to look at him but no one heard, the sound of their busy jaws was too loud.
Spacer Next he saw beautiful colorful creatures flying near him among the leaves, clinging to each other or laying eggs. These must be the butterflies, he thought to himself. He could almost swear that he heard them talking to each other, or rather something that sounded more like singing, and it was such a pleasure to listen to this music.
Spacer I must have died and reached the next world, he began to think, as a strong blow on a leaf bed on the ground brought him back to the reality of a simple grey caterpillar he had left a few seconds earlier.

Spacer After a long exhausting journey, which is a story by itself, Avri returned to the caterpillars' community. Soon enough he understood there was no one to talk to. He didn't care about the green leaves anymore and even the tree top was beyond him. He decided he wanted to become a butterfly.
Spacer "Something moved inside your head during the fall," they told him, "leave us alone and go turn into a cocoon."
Spacer Although this was a curse in the caterpillars' world, a guy like Avri wouldn't take lightly words that are said in a moment of rage. He began to study the phenomenon of cocooning.
Spacer He remembered that the butterflies looked very much like the caterpillars, but had wings. Could it be that they were simply caterpillars with wings? The most definite fact he came up with at the beginning of his study was that no one had ever studied the issue before. The reason was that it didn't interest anyone. If they had really checked, they would have found out that inside the cocoon there was no trace of a caterpillar. So where did all the caterpillars disappear to? Did they simply evaporate?

Spacer Avri decided to cling to an old caterpillar and study the process closely, he saw how the caterpillar got fatter and more satisfied each day and heard about how he was tired of eating leaves, he couldnít even get excited if the freshest leaf from the tree top was brought to him.
Spacer Then quite unexpectedly he heard that the caterpillar wanted to cocoon. "This is a natural process." said the caterpillar, and began to weave his cocoon.
Spacer "Do me a favor," Avri begged him, "if after the cocoon you become a butterfly, come and call me, ok?
Spacer "Stop this nonsense," said the old caterpillar, "we both know that the cocoon is the end."
Spacer Avri continued to beg him, until he finally agreed, at least so he wouldn't be disturbed in weaving his cocoon. Two days later the old caterpillar was discovered in a shell that grew harder, until he finally disappeared inside it.

Spacer Avri didn't give up, his grey genes gave him the quality of stubbornness and he used it to the end. He waited days and nights by the silent cocoon, and wouldn't listen to his friends' pleas to get back to normal life.
Spacer "I can't find any taste in monotonous chewing," he answered them, "and if I am destined to end up as a cocoon, I want to know, at least, where I will end up."
Spacer He hardly slept, fearing something might happen when he fell asleep, and in the dark nights when he couldn't see from a distance, he leaned against the cold cocoon so that every move would wake him up.
Spacer And then it happened, just when the first seeds of doubt began to grow, and hunger almost defeated his empty stomach, the cocoon shell began to move.

Spacer The sight mesmerized him . A crack gradually began to form in the cocoon shell. The crack grew wider and a short black head appeared from inside. A few seconds later the shell shook so hard that Avri retreated fearfully.
Spacer The shell was cut in two and a pair of colorful wings, just like the ones he had seen during the fall, were fully and gloriously spread to the sides, fluttered slightly in the air and carried a shiny butterfly up up and away beyond the blue sky.
Spacer Avri was overwhelmed and his heart beat strongly, he looked around wanting to share the experience with his fellow caterpillars, but no one had noticed the event. They were all busy chewing, hiding from birds and looking for green leaves.
Spacer He wanted to shout, "Look, I was right." But he knew no one would listen. Avri felt a great weakness spread throughout his limbs. The long days of waiting, the powerful experience, the disappointment and loneliness had left their mark, he lost his grip of the leaf, held his hands upwards as if expecting help and began to drop downwards in total indifference.

Spacer When he woke up, he couldn't understand where he was. The sound of soft singing reminded him of his first fall, but this time it was clearer and closer. The tree leaves passed him quickly, but surprisingly enough they passed from left to right and not from top to bottom. Perhaps I've been caught by a bird? He thought, but then again, no, since it would have hurt, he dismissed the thought immediately.
Spacer He looked backwards and saw the eyes, they seemed familiar. Yes, they were the eyes of the old caterpillar who had cocooned.
Spacer "I promised you, and I have kept my promise," sang the old guy and smiled.
Spacer "Why are you singing?" he asked him, "and whatís more important, where am I?"
Spacer "I'm singing because this is my nature now, and I'm holding you in my arms, we're flying."
Spacer Avri couldn't grasp the amazing sights. The butterfly climbed up and showed him for the first time what the mulberry tree looked like from the top. He saw the green parts and the eaten parts, the crowds of caterpillars and the lonely caterpillars at the top, and he even saw the neighbouring trees.
Spacer "Where would you like me to let you down?" asked the old caterpillar singing.
Spacer "Who wants to get down?" answered Avri, humming the same tune.

Spacer Even when they landed on the most crowded branches, no one noticed them. Very close to them was a senior female butterfly laying eggs.
Spacer "So is this how it is done?" asked Avri.
Spacer The female butterfly smiled at him and beamed.
Spacer "What a privilege do I have to be talking to a caterpillar?"
Spacer " What do you mean?" asked Avri.
Spacer "I have never spoken to a caterpillar." she answered, "that is, since I stopped being one."
Spacer "So why don't you take all the caterpillars for a tour above the tree?" Avri went on asking.
Spacer "There is nothing we would want more," she answered, "but we simply can't."
Spacer "So how come you took me?" insisted the grey caterpillar.
Spacer "Because you wanted to;" she answered, "you raised your hands because it was the only thing you wanted, and nothing else. You believed you would succeed, and so I could catch your raised hands, remember that." added the old caterpillar and flew on his way.

Spacer Avri had many flying hours since that fateful day. As time went by, he learned different tunes and met with more and more butterflies. From each one he learned something about the butterflies' world and enjoyed it tremendously. Even when he went back to chewing leaves he discovered a totally new taste he hadnít known before, he called it "target taste."
Spacer Now he found for the first time in his life a good reason for the monotonous chewing. He knew that if he ate much he would be strong enough to fly a longer time and that would greatly please the butterflies who would fly him into the wide open spaces.
Spacer He enjoyed the pleasure he brought them and there was no end to his happiness, however, as time went by, he also felt a growing sense of sorrow for his fellow caterpillars. If only they knew what they were missing, he thought to himself, they would lift their heads immediately and look only for butterfly wings, they would stop chewing in order to hear the singing of the flying creatures, and would raise their hands in full confidence that they would not fall, since some butterfly would surely catch them before they hit the ground.
Spacer And so, he felt his growing loneliness among his fellow caterpillars, together with his growing happiness in the butterflies' world.
Spacer "I am sure I can explain it to them." he thought, and decided to take upon himself a new challenge --to teach caterpillars about the butterflies' world.
Spacer "I may be a special caterpillar but there must be others like me who want, but don't know what they want, and are feeling their way around like blind in the darkness. I'll show them the way. I can't force anyone, but at least I'll know that I have tried to help whoever wanted help."

Spacer Even Avri's time had come and he accepted it in total peace and turned into a cocoon, knowing that he had fulfilled his goal as a caterpillar in the best possible way, to the very end.
Spacer He left behind him detailed maps of the tree structure, the forest structure and drawings of the shortest and easiest ways of climbing to the top, and a detailed anatomy of a butterfly structure, the way the eggs are laid, how they hatch and even a map of recommended and protected feeding zones. He knew that if another strong willed caterpillar were born, he would be able to use the maps he had left behind him.
Spacer In fact most of the caterpillars used the maps to easily find the zones of green leaves. Fewer, used them to find their way to the top. Even less caterpillars used the writings to study the structure of the egg and of the cocoon and only single individuals began to ask themselves: How had he arrived to such knowledge? Where did he find such simple solutions to such complex problems? Where are all his beautiful songs from? Can we also get in touch with the same source of knowledge as he did?"

Spacer Avri was the first in a dynasty of flying caterpillars. Those who hatched after him went through the same processes and each one updated and renovated his predecessors' drawings.
Spacer They described the butterflies' world to those who came after them, especially in order to arouse their will, to increase their need to raise their hands up in total belief.
Spacer They knew that the butterflies love the caterpillars more than the caterpillars can even imagine. They knew that a day would come when all the caterpillars would fly with the help of the butterflies and then there would be full contentment both in the caterpillars' world and in the butterflies' world. They waited for that day and did everything in their power to bring it near.

Spacer "Any caterpillar can eat, but he who wants to, can eat it all."
Spacer Avri -- the flying caterpillar


Spacer Gilad Shadmon

Spacer Translated by R.Ovadya