That Story I Intended to Finish

“The key to keeping your balance is knowing when you’ve lost it.” – Anonymous


In early June I was at an event, and my friend K. H. asked me, “So, out of all of the things that you do, what’s your favorite?” I replied, “I wear a lot of hats, but I really have a true passion for writing.” Her response, “Wow. I didn’t even know you did that!” Well, that seems like a problem.

Writing is a problem. It’s a problematic passion because it requires the intentionality of creating space where an introverted self can escape, outside of work and family and everything else, to cohesively collect all thoughts and transfer them to a keyboard. And if you happen to insert a big project into your life unexpectedly, like I did for most of this spring, that intentional space ends up looking like a tiny little corner, where dust bunnies gather behind stacks of boxes, in a room that you rarely step foot in.

I heard a phenomenal concept this morning about how to keep a relationship strong. The idea was that it’s often necessary to contract one’s self in order to allow room for a partner to expand and thrive. It’s this continuous expansion and contraction, on the part of both parties, that keeps a relationship strong and balanced. That’s honestly great advice for how we should deal with ourselves. It’s imperative that we periodically contract certain facets of our lives in order to allow others to expand. Without an adherence to this balance, parts of us end up so egregiously swollen that we can do nothing but burst. All we are left with, then, is to gather up a bunch of messy pieces and attempt to reconstruct them back together into our whole selves. Sadly, the success rate on that project is pretty low.

So I’m thinking I might contract a few things for a bit in order to allow for a little expansion of my passion. But before I go giving myself a lot of credit here for intentionality and setting aside space, I should probably admit that I’m writing this in a waiting area, alongside hundreds of strangers, at the Texas Department of Public Safety. I’m here to renew my expired driver’s license, because that’s how I roll. Clearly my passion does not lie in the legal operation of motor vehicles, as I’ve been skirting the law for months. My wait number is S3273. They just called S3131. It’s times like these when a person like me says, “You know, while I’ve got time, I should write that thing about the moth.” (Saying that out loud suddenly confirms what I’ve always suspected. My nature is odd. LOL. I’m thinking the percentages are low on authoring articles about Lepidoptera while at the DMV.)

So, here goes.


Remember all the way back to the end of November? Yeah. I know. It’s a lifetime ago. If you read my blog post back then, you’ll recall the story of how I unearthed two Sphinx Moth pupae from our garden and placed them in Home Depot bucket habitats to ride out the winter. (See, I wasn’t kidding about that “odd nature” thing.) I’m sure many of you have been wondering, “What happened with that whole moth thing?” You’ve had nothing better to think about. Well, spring break came, and then Easter came, and then we hauled the buckets out into more direct sunlight (maybe that would do the trick), and then Cinco de Mayo came, and then Mother’s Day came and then…I kind-of started doubting. Nothing in nature has a 100% success rate. I know that. But, dang it, I wanted this to work!  I’ve hatched a ton of different butterflies in the past, Monarchs, Swallowtails (I have one preparing to pupate in a habitat right now), Gulf Fritillaries, but never a moth. And I wanted to see if my hypothesis was correct. Were the pupae that I saved, in fact, those of the Five-spotted Hawk Moth? (Now say that last sentence in your head through the voice of Morgan Freeman. It sounds WAY cooler.)

Finally, the last day of school arrived.  That was it. I mean, here we were at the precipice of summer and these guys were supposed to “emerge in spring.” That’s what all the sites said. I picked N. up from school and took him to his class swim party. As we were later walking from the garage to the house, him all water-logged from hours in the pool and me all brain-logged from my end-of-the-year “momming” requirements, I spotted a shadow under the netting of one of the buckets on the deck. I won’t lie. I might have pushed my kid out of the way to run to that bucket, and I might have screamed a little bit (it’s all such a blur), but THERE it was! A perfectly emerged moth. Everybody came to peer down into the net, like we were all admiring a newborn baby through that big glass window in the maternity ward. I told J. it was possibly one of the best things that had happened all year. It was as if everything was in balance. The perfect breath.


The moth had clearly just hatched. You could still see the hole in the soil where she had emerged. She was adjusting slowly, getting used to her new self. Her antennae were still tucked and her wings still dull, with little movement, but, after I lifted the netting, she happily climbed onto my finger into a comfortable perch.


Newly hatched butterflies and moths allow the best opportunity for detailed study. For one, they sit still, because they are working on pumping fluid into their wings and hardening them. Secondly, they haven’t been beaten up by the wind or had sections of their wings nipped by birds, so you can really see the vivid colors and patterns form as the wings take shape. This process can take a while, so the difficulty with moths is that they might not finish until it’s dark, and then you have a hard time seeing everything.

After cuddling the newborn for a while, it was time to release. We wanted to protect her from predators, as much as possible, so I placed her onto a section of our brick that blended nicely with her coloring. I left her for a bit, so as not to disturb too much of the process, but I had to know for sure. Did she have the spots?

As dusk approached, I decided to go back out. I carefully lifted her wings, just enough to peek at the abdomen (way too awkward and difficult to get a photo), and there they were…five yellow spots lining each side. Hypothesis confirmed!

It was now getting dark and time for tending to my real brood. We said our goodbyes. As I crawled into bed, later that night, I lay there thinking, “Hmmm. My day just ended. Hers is just beginning.”

The next morning I grabbed a cup of coffee and checked the patch of brick. She was gone. As I sipped my warm awakening, I thought about her first flight. I hoped it was a good one. I gave a heartfelt thank you to our vast universe for allowing me to be a part of that process, a present face at a birth that began, through intentionality, some six months earlier. That’s the thing about intentionality. Its implementation doesn’t always live in the same moment as its results. It often requires adding a square foot of space and a cup of time to yield fruit (or sometimes even an acre and a gallon).

Where does this leave us? The whole thing has ME pondering how I could convert a section of our yard into a moth garden. I mean, everyone plants butterfly gardens. You never hear anyone say, “You should stop by and look at my moth garden.” I mentioned the idea to J. He liked it. Maybe soon. Do we also call projects like that “creating intentional space?” I think so.


Wow. People are suddenly clapping in here. Awwww. Thanks, guys. It IS a pretty great story.

Oh, wait. Never mind.

That’s just ecstatic cheering for Jamie, our friendly DPS employee. She just rolled the number to S3200.



All the best,

A. J.


– All content photos by Amanda J. Schulz

Sleeping Giants

“”Keep a good heart and all that is anything and everything will remember you,” said the Sphinx.”

Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun


“You’ve got a lot going on this week,” said J., after I brought over a little pot of dirt, excitedly showing him the two treasures I had just unearthed. His sentiment alluded to the fact that I had already rescued an Eastern Screech Owl, earlier in the week, that hit my vehicle near my son N.’s school (but that’s another story for another day). Wednesday, though, I had just been minding my own business in the vegetable garden after work, attempting to dig up whatever rogue sweet potatoes I could find that might have matured from re-sprouted second-year vines. As I dug and slowly lifted mounds of soil, I saw something long that almost looked like a dried pepper. After carefully picking it up, I knew right away what it was, despite never having actually seen one in person. I gently set it aside and continued to dig. Within five minutes, yet another one popped up. Wow! This was my LUCKY day.

What treasures had I added to my trove, you ask? Sphinx Moth pupae, of course. Some might call them hawkmoths or hummingbird moths, for the way they hover over flowers. I remember the first time I saw one in flight, several years ago, and didn’t even understand what it was. It moved just like a hummingbird but clearly wasn’t a bird. It’s pretty rare to be in the right place at the right time to snap a photo of one in flight, but it’s almost just as rare to dig up a fully formed pupa, especially two of them!


This is because the caterpillar can burrow down about a half foot to pupate; and if he burrows in the fall, the plan is to typically overwinter, with the new moth emerging in springtime (at other times of the year, the hatch will occur within only two to three weeks). So unless you are a gardener out digging, and digging fairly deeply in the soil, you are unlikely to ever see one of these with your own eyes. To see two in one dig…almost unheard of.

So how did I immediately know that this was a Sphinx Moth? The number one clue is the size of the pupa. It’s massive.


My two measured just over two inches! The bigger the caterpillar the larger the house, and I already knew some Sphinx Moth larvae could grow up to 4 inches. What I wasn’t quite sure about was the reason for the little “pepper stem.” I’m accustomed to seeing Monarch and Queen chrysalises suspended from little stems, having hatched many of them, but this made no sense…these pupae were just laying underground. That’s when I did a little research and found Bob Dluzen’s article over at All Things Green. Bob noted that the “stem” is actually the housing for the long proboscis that the moth will form (its nectar-gathering tongue). This makes sense, because many species of Sphinx Moths have a proboscis extending the length of a foot or more! So the top of the pupa will break open and the moth will emerge, headfirst, pulling its tongue out of the hooked casing. actually provides a very helpful diagram on its site about teaching life cycles which further shows all of the parts of the moth beneath the pupa shell; and if you scroll back to the top of this piece and look at my first photo, you can see every part!




But there are around 1,100 species of Sphinx Moths. So how can I possibly know which one I have? Through further deduction, I propose that the two guys who burrowed and formed these nice, cozy little houses were likely none other than what we all more lovingly term tomato hornworms. And now the peanut gallery groans.

Photo Credit: Texas A&M Agrilife Extension


Groans from the crowd arise because these little beasts are experts in devouring foliage on vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. So knowing this tidbit of information, and knowing that I just excavated these gems from beneath my sweet potato pile, which was, conveniently, located UNDERNEATH the remnants of our huge yellow pear tomato, leads me to this most probable of Sherlockian conclusions.

But now, what in the world to do with them???

Well, since I’m the excavator and this excavator is a “big picture” thinker, and, more importantly, she’s a pollinator proponent, the short answer is…they get a pass.

Photo Credit: Joseph A. Marcus (Wildflower Center Digital Library, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)


This Universe of ours speaks in mysterious ways, if you are willing to open your ears and listen to it AND you are willing to study it a bit. Wednesday morning, the VERY day of this dig, I happened to come into possession of some Datura seed that I thought I might give a try. It’s the lovely white Angel Trumpet you see in the photo above. It’s also known as Sacred Datura, receiving that distinction because of its history of usage for ritual intoxication in some Native American tribes. If you follow this blog, you know that I am a huge fan of the art of plant sharing, which I’ve coined as #plantsharenow. So to acquire some of these seeds for the first time was a fun happenstance, but to then dig up these pupae was a clear message.


The Datura is a night bloomer. Sphinx Moths fly at night. AND…drum roll…Sphinx Moths are one of the only pollinators of Datura. This is because Datura nectar is located in the well at the very bottom of the tubular flower. So only someone with a very long proboscis will be attracted to this flower in the first place to then pollinate it while moving along the top of the bloom. It is as if the Universe said to me, “You have been given. Now you must give back to this circle of life to make it all work.”

So, to the giving we go.


Again, if you know me, you also know that I like to practice sustainability, whenever possible, which includes repurposing whatever I can use. My pupae needed to go back into the soil, but I also wanted the chance to hopefully watch this process AND to confirm if my hypothesis on species was actually correct.

I found two old poinsettia pots from last Christmas, which are perfect because they have framing around the edges. The framing will provide a vertical structure necessary for the moths to climb up to properly unfold and dry their wings. I filled these with soil, and buried a pupa horizontally in each (because that’s the position I found them in) about 4 inches down.


Then I covered each with a mesh sack that cinches at the bottom. I commonly use these for our butterfly habitats both at home and at the school garden where I volunteer.


This time of year, as luck would also have it, my yard has no shortage of Elm leaves. So I filled the bottom of a Home Depot® bucket (“Let’s Do This” seeming appropriate) with Elm leaves and placed my pot on top, surrounding it then with more leaves and finally lightly covering the top with even more leaves. This should provide extra insulation now that the pupa aren’t actually underground. But, as J. pointed out, if you’re going to use buckets like this, it’s important to place them under a covered area on a deck or patio so that they don’t fill with rainwater. We don’t need any drownings on our hands!


So that’s where we are folks! I’ll be checking these buckets daily on our deck, because, as those of you from North Texas know, sometimes winter turns to spring a lot sooner than expected. I certainly don’t want to miss the hatch, and I definitely don’t want to hold anyone hostage! And if my hypothesis holds true, this is what should emerge…

Photo Credit: Michael J. Raupp, Ph.D., Professor of Entomology, Extension Specialist (University of Maryland)


Manduca quinquemaculata, the Five-spotted Hawkmoth. Beautiful, isn’t she? And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be remembered by the Sphinx for my good heart. If not, I’ll be plenty satisfied if she can just remember me for the Angel Trumpet in my garden…and see fit to pollinate it.


All the best,



– All content photos, not credited, by Amanda J. Schulz



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