Monday, October 20, 2014

Tallulah Meets a Woolly Bear, Part 2 (the Very Long Conclusion)

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In the previous post: During a photo break on a bike ride with Mrs. M, Tallulah meets a Woolly Bear named W.B. As they stand in the road getting acquainted, a car comes rushing towards them. Mrs. M snatches Tallulah from the jaws of danger, but W.B. is left to his fate. Did the car run him over?

Tallulah takes up the tale....

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Mrs. M and I stood there, she staring at the sky, me with my eyes shut tight, both of us afraid to look down for fear of what we might see on the road.

Then a small fuzzy voice came floating up. "Hey Tallulah, why are your eyes closed? Did you fall asleep?"

My eyes popped open, and there was W.B wriggling towards us. "You're alive!" I said joyfully.

Mrs. M put me down on the road, and I ran to give him a hug. (Well, I didn't exactly run - I'm a turtle after all - but in my mind I was hurrying.)

"I was afraid that car had run you over," I said. "I'm so glad it missed you!"

"So am I!" he said with a grin. "Now, where were we? I think you were asking me some questions."

"That I was," I said. "And here's another. Before we met, I thought you were a turtle - but then you said you were a bear. And Mrs. M called you a caterpillar. What are you, exactly?"

"Well, people do call me a Woolly Bear, probably because I'm so fuzzy," he said. "But Mrs. M is right - I'm a caterpillar. Or a larva."

"What's a larva?" I asked.

"In my case, kind of an undergraduate moth. I used to live in an egg, you see, but then I hatched, got big and hairy, and spent the summer eating everything I could."

"Kind of like a human teenager," I said. "What do you like to eat, W.B.?"

"Oh, herbs and forbs. You know, the usual stuff."

"Forbs? You eat cars?" I couldn't believe my ears. He didn't look big enough for that.

"Not Fords - forbs. Flowering plants, like milkweed or clovers or sunflowers."

"Oh, forbs. Of course." I nodded my head and tried to look smart, but I don't think he was fooled. "What will you do when the weather cools off and the plants die?"

"Then I'll stop eating," said W.B. "and look for a safe place to spend the winter. When winter comes, I'll freeze."

"Won't we all?" I said. "Come January, you should hear Mrs. M complaining about her chilly neck and ankles. Even I have to put on a scarf."

"No, I mean it," said W.B. "I'll really freeze. The only thing that'll keep me alive is a special substance that my body produces. It will preserve my tissues while I sleep through the winter."

Preserve his tissues? Now I was really confused. Most Kleenex seem to get through the winter just fine without any help at all. But I didn't want to display my ignorance again, so I kept my mouth shut.

W.B. went on to ask, "What about you, Tallulah? What will you do when it gets really cold?"

"Oh, I'll sit around on Mrs. M's desk, and take lots of naps. Sometimes we'll for walks, and I'll pose for pictures in the snow, or climb trees to see if spring is on the horizon yet. When spring comes and the snow melts, we'll start riding our bike again. What will you do when spring comes, W.B.?"

"I'll thaw out," he said, "then I'll wake up and start eating again. And if I'm big enough, I'll pupate."

"Pupate? What in the world is that?" I asked.

"Well, first I'll make a fuzzy cocoon for myself--"

"Wouldn't it make more sense to have the fuzzy cocoon before winter starts?" I interrupted.

"Not really," he said. "The cocoon isn't to keep me warm - it's a place for me to hide out while I turn into a moth. Kind of like a changing hut."

"Wait a minute. You turn into a moth? What kind of a moth?"

"An Isabella Tiger Moth," he said proudly. "I know I'm not much to look at now, but just wait till I'm a moth! I'll be so handsome you won't recognize me. I'll have champagne-colored wings with tiny black spots, and a beautiful soft furry head. (No more bristles!) My sisters will be even prettier - they'll have peachy-pink underwings."

"I think you're pretty handsome right now, W.B. But what happens if you're not big enough to pupate next spring?"

"Then I'll have to sit around all next summer," he said, "eating and growing as much as I can until the winter comes. Then I'll sleep until the next spring and try again. Some of my cousins, who live up in Canada where the summers are short, can take up to 14 years to get big enough to pupate. I sure hope it doesn't take me that long!"

"Why?" I said. "What's your hurry?"

"What's my hurry?" said W.B. "I can't wait to be a moth! When I'm a moth, I'll get to fly. Just think of it, Tallulah - flying! Instead of sitting in a milkweed eating my head off, or crawling around looking for a safe place to sleep, I'll be soaring over moonlit fields and fluttering in twilit gardens. And I'll get to find a nice girl moth, and we'll start a family .... oh, it'll be great while it lasts!"

"What do you mean, 'while it lasts'? Are you going to turn into something else?"

"Nope - once a moth, always a moth. But my breed doesn't live very long."

"You don't mean...." I couldn't finish.

"I'll get two crowded weeks of glorious life, and then I'll die," said W.B. simply.

This was horrible news. I stared at him, not knowing what to say.

"Don't look so sad, Tallulah," he said. "Being a moth is what I was made for. And I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it."

"Excuse me," said Mrs. M, who had just finished taking her photos. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but Tallulah and I need to be getting home."

I looked at W.B., and he looked at me. We'd only just met, and I liked him so much. I wasn't ready to say goodbye.

"I ... I have to go now, W.B. Will I ever see you again?"

"Let's hope so," he said cheerfully. "I'll keep an eye out for you next summer. If you see a handsome Isabella Tiger Moth fluttering around some evening, waving a wing at you, that'll be me! Better still, keep your porch light on, and I'll come and tap on your window one night."

Somehow this didn't make me feel any better. But it did give me an idea. "Can't you come home with us now, W.B.? We'd keep you warm all winter long. You could eat as much as you wanted, and get really really big before spring. And then I wouldn't have to worry about you crossing roads and getting hit by cars. And I could spend more time with you before... before...." I had to stop. I couldn't say it.

"Thanks, Tallulah, but it just wouldn't work. I'm a cold-weather caterpillar - I need to sleep outside all winter, or I won't develop properly. And don't worry about me crossing the road - I'm almost to the other side now. When I get there, I'll find a nice fallen log and snuggle up under it to wait for spring. Spring! And flying!" His eyes sparkled at the thought.

"It's getting late, Tallulah," said Mrs. M gently. "Time for us to go."

I swallowed hard. "Goodbye, W.B., and good luck. It was awfully nice meeting you."

"Goodbye, Tallulah! Have a good winter, and remember to look out for me next year!"

I gave him a kiss on his fuzzy nose.


Then Mrs. M picked me up and put me in my basket, while W.B. headed for the dry grass at the edge of the road. He turned to wave at us, and we waved back. Then we rode off down the lonely road, leaving him behind.

The world seemed awfully empty without him. I never knew making a friend could make me feel so sad.

When we got home, I told Mrs. M all about W.B. "I sure hope he finds a safe place to spend the winter," I said.

"Me too," said Mrs. M. "And I hope he gets to be a moth next year."

Not me, I thought. I don't want him to turn into a moth. I want him to stay alive.

~ ~ ~

Tallulah stops typing and heaves a turtle sigh. "This post isn't coming out anything like I hoped it would, Mrs. M."

"I'm sorry to hear it," I say. "What seems to be the problem?"

"I wanted to tell people about my new friend, how amazing he is, how much I enjoyed meeting him and learning about his life. I wanted it to be a cheerful post. But I can't seem to leave out the sad parts."

"Blogging is like that, Tallulah." (And so is life, I think to myself.)

"I know people are expecting a happy ending to this story, but I can't give them one. How can it be a happy ending if W.B. has to die?"

This is a poser. "Sometimes happy endings don't look the way we expected, Tallulah," is all I can think of to say.

"But I don't want him to die!" she cries, bursting into turtle tears. Poor Tallulah!

"It's hard to lose a friend," I say, when her sobs have died down. "But maybe we should think about W.B. What does he want?"

Tallulah sniffs, and looks thoughtful. Then she hangs her head. "What a selfish turtle I've been," she says in a low voice.

Then she lifts her head and takes a deep breath. "I'm ready to finish the post now."

I give her a hug, and she climbs back onto the keyboard.

~ ~ ~

When Mrs. M and I got home from our ride, I told her all about W.B. "I sure hope he finds a safe place to spend the winter," I said.

"Me too," said Mrs. M. "And I hope he gets to be a moth next year."

Before I answered, I thought about W.B.'s words: "Being a moth is what I was made for."

I remembered the joy in his voice when he talked about soaring over moonlit fields. The sparkle in his eye as he looked forward to spring.

"I hope so too, Mrs. M," I said. "And I really hope he'll visit us. I want to see him fly."

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