The Likeness of Unseen Things: A Lesson from the Woolly Bear

Photo by Photo by Derek Hil from FreeImages

Sky brought a caterpillar to class. Shortly before my seventh period British Literature course began, Sky introduced me to her caterpillar (Fred, I believe she named him), a token from her lunch outside in the park. Rather than send her back outdoors to return the woolly bear to its rightful domain, I allowed her to keep it on her desk. I’m not sure why I permitted a junior this odd privilege; it wasn’t even a request, per se. But stay, it did.

Something about the caterpillar intrigued me, so at the end of the period, I began to do some research. I had already planned a new series of poems inspired by the characteristics of love from I Corinthians 13:4-8a, allowing natural imagery to convey the traits Paul referenced: patience, kindness, contentment, etc. Perhaps this caterpillar had something to say about patience?

I would say I am generally a patient person, but recently, I have struggled to show patient love, usually as a result of my own selfish desires. For me, this study in woolly bear folklore was more than a lesson in showing love through patience or an exploration of the connection between woolly bears and the severity of the upcoming winter. It was the antidote to the hopelessness that had begun to seep in as I got distracted by the world around me.

I don’t believe any of us are called to seek shelter in some secluded nook by ourselves to just weather out the storm. Rather, I believe it’s time to leave the things we’ve fed on for so long and seek shelter in the secret place of the Most High so that we can rise again, transformed and then, as a result, transform the world around us.

The Likeness of Unseen Things

Vincent H. Anastasi - 2021

Methodically, the woolly bear
bunches and unfurls -
silent accordion - inching its way
across the forest floor,
hearkening to winter's distant voice.
Instinct drives it on,
some natural inclination to live,
immutable and divine,
to exchange the plantain,
dandelion and nettles
for some dark sheltered nook
to weather winter's blast:
autumn's bristled prophet,
black bands bookending burnished red,
its body an almanac,
a crawling compass needle
forecasting frigid days ahead.

Furry sage, you exchange
skin for skin,
six times molted,
deepening red and fading black,
until winter takes root
and, hibernating, you freeze
bit by bit
surviving in suspended animation
'til awakened by Spring's warming breath,
you rise, feed, and freeze again,
until the transforming mortal thaw
releases flaming wings
to flit about on summer nights.

Now, the tulip trees come alive,
leaves like tiger moths descending,
and the whole earth beds down
awaiting the vernal voice
that calls forth each cocooned Lazarus
out of earthen tombs,
shuffling off this mortal coil
to rejoice in the likeness of unseen things.

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