Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The parable of the butterfly

There's an old story about a man who comes across a cocoon, and before his very eyes, the butterfly inside starts trying to break out. He notices that the butterfly seems to be struggling, and decides to help it by breaking open the cocoon. The butterfly emerges, dragging its wings along the ground. It attempts to lift itself into the air several times, but is unable to do so. A short while later, the butterfly dies.

The moral of the story is that we need adversity in order to thrive. The very attempt of struggling to emerge from the cocoon strengthens the wings of the butterfly, so that it can fly.

On Sunday, we had dinner with some of the folks from the Tacoma Food Policy Council who are very interested in the Hilltop Farms idea.* I took the opportunity while I was there to ask about my lettuce seedlings, which have died. When they were becoming limp and tangled, I asked a gardener at a local nursery, and she told me they needed more light. So I added an additional grow light. Later, I spoke to someone at the Lowe's garden department, and he said that I used too much light--seedlings, he said, are delicate and too much light can fry them.

Stephen, one of the folks at dinner, had a different take on it, however. "Plants need adversity to thrive. If you're planting seedlings indoors, they don't get the adversity they need. I blow on my seedlings every day and sometimes run my hands over them lightly, to give them a little challenge."

I think he's right--my plants are just like with the butterfly. Shortly before my lettuce seedlings died altogether, I replanted some in a container and placed it on our terrace, just to see what would happen. For about two weeks, they continued to look as pathetic as the ones indoors. But today I took a look at them, and some of them seem to be rebounding!

I hope this works for all my seedlings. I replanted the herbs in a container outdoors last week because they had outgrown their little pots. Today I replanted the sunflower (and I'll probably need to do so later in the ground, given how big they can grow) because although it looked strong, the leaves were starting to yellow. Maybe the sun, rain and wind will toughen it up!


* We learned from them that the Tacoma Urban League ran a community garden in the Hilltop area back in the 90s, but later lost the funding. The garden lots, now fallow, still exist, however. Our hope is that we can make the Hilltop Farms sustainable, perhaps even using those same lots.


  1. What a wonderful parable. I absolutely loved it, and sent it to a friend. Thank you!