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

Lepidoptera Life

“How does one become butterfly?’ Pooh asked pensively. ‘You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar,’ Piglet replied.“

– A. A. Milne


Rain, rain, go away. Does anyone else here feel this way?

I can’t remember a fall in North Texas, in recent years, that has been this wet. We finally got a break today for several hours, not really sunny hours, but at least hours without water. If I was grabbing my camera and dashing out for a break, so were all the insects, gathering as much pollen and nectar as insectly possible before the down-pours of evening hit again.

Before I actually realized I should make a break for it, I happened to look out the window with baby A. E. at the pollinator garden. She exclaimed, “Buddafly! I touch it!” And there they were…Monarchs everywhere! We easily counted eight just outside the window alone. I knew as soon as naptime rolled around that I had to get outside. You see, if you remember from my very first post on this blog, J. and I participate in Monarch Watch by tagging butterflies each fall. Last year we tagged twenty-five, but these were all hatched from caterpillars we collected off of Milkweed in our garden. This year it’s a different story. Our Milkweed has not been prolific enough to support caterpillars, so, at present, we are forced to try and tag wild butterflies passing through. Sometimes this can be difficult and then sometimes it can actually be easy.

On a day like today, where a break from rain is a blessing for everyone, the butterflies are willing to sit for longer periods of time to nectar. In those cases, you simply come up behind a butterfly with its wings closed and gently pinch the wings together. Then with your other hand you take a small sticker, that has already been pre-placed on the end of a toothpick, and roll it onto the central section of the hindwing. Then you slide your pinching hand down a bit and just press the hindwings together to make sure the sticker is secure. Let go, and the Monarch then continues on its merry way.

I reviewed the 2017 tagging data today from Monarch Watch to see if any of our butterflies from last year had been located in either Mexico or other parts of the United States and Canada. Sadly, none of our numbers were retrieved. But there’s always this year, and we’re trying to double our chances by tagging fifty! So far, we are at nine. If this rain keeps up, my hopes might be dashed in reaching our goal. We’ll just have to wait out the storms and see. That’s half of life, isn’t it? The “wait and see.”

In any event, one thing was crystal clear today…with the Monarchs came a plethora of Lepidoptera. There were seemingly butterflies and moths and caterpillars invading all corners of our space. It was spectacular! I couldn’t look in any direction without seeing a flit or a float. So, in honor of the Monarch and all the flutter of fall activity, I have chosen my seven favorite butterfly and moth photos from today for my photography week in review.

I guess you could really call this a week in review in a day! Hopefully next week will open up greater artistic opportunities, but this post does go to show that you can capture some pretty amazing things in a very short period of time. In fact, while someone else takes a nap, you can literally take in the world.


All the best,

A. J.


“Orange Blossom Special” (Female Monarch nectars on Cosmos)


“Who Are You?” (Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar enjoying a little hookah, or is that fennel?)


“Winged Dali” (Armyworm Moth on Cosmos)


“One Piece of Chocolate Cake, One Ice Cream Cone, One Pickle” (Cross-striped Cabbageworm devours a Brassica)


“Victoria’s Secret” (Catocala (“Underwing”) Moth nectars on Black Knight Butterfly Bush)


“The Whole World Smiles with You” (Hawaiian Beet Webworm Moth relaxes with a grin on Frostweed)


“Have Passport, Will Travel” (Female Monarch tagged and fueling up for the journey)


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