Holiday Hill  by Edith M. Patch

Port of Elm

I F you were to take a journey through the waves of the summer wind far out into the sea of sunshine, what sort of sails would you choose?

Would you like the colors of one side to change, tint by tint, from creamy white to dark, rich brown—with a purple mist thrown over it and glistening silver marks in the middle? Would you like the other side to be bright brown, dappled with darker shades and tipped with dainty violet?

The wings of Violet Tip were like that, when she came sailing over Holiday Meadow one warm sunshiny day.

In that pleasant field were many plants that held sweet drops of nectar in their bright flower-cups. Violet Tip had often paused to sip from them on other voyages. The colors seemed to attract her, and she certainly liked the taste of nectar.


Violet Tip

But this time she did not linger among the fragrant blossoms. She was sailing for another port. She was, indeed, taking the most important journey in the life of a butterfly.

As Violet Tip drifted past the hedgerow that bordered the meadow, something caused her to change her course. She steered up the side of Holiday Hill.

Why should that little voyager turn away from the blossoms where she had often feasted? What was there in the air, that warm summer day, that seemed better to her than the fragrance of flowers? Who knows?

Perhaps, for once, an odor of leaves appealed to her more than the sweetness of flowers. It may be, for a time, that the scent of a plant belonging to the Nettle Family drew her. She, herself, had eaten many a green salad of such leaves. That, of course, was when she was young enough to have strong jaws instead of the long slender tongue that she now held coiled like a watch spring.

But what could she care about them now—nettles or hop or other leaves of that plant family? For on she went, straight up the hillside to a big elm tree, and there she stopped! And elms, as you may know, are closely related to nettles and hop—so closely, indeed, that many botanists say they belong to the Nettle Family.

What botanists say about elm trees did not concern Violet Tip. She had never seen a book about plants in her life. She did not need any person's advice about such matters. She had a surer guide to the plants than a book. Just what led her to an elm tree I cannot tell you. I think  it was some odor; but, of course, I do not really know, because I have no way of learning how hop and nettles and elms smell to a butterfly.

This much, however, is certain. Violet Tip did steer straight for that tall tree, shaped like a great plume. She entered the Port of Elm, and there she stopped. While in that harbor, she anchored her eggs on some good fresh leaves, using a special sort of glue to hold them fast which would not melt in sunshine or dissolve in rain.


Two of Violet Tip's eggs—much enlarged

As soon as that important ceremony was over, Violet Tip lost her interest in elms or other members of the Nettle Family. She fluttered away in the sunshine; and, when she came to a gay fragrant blossom, she paused for refreshments. She uncoiled her tongue, and, dipping it into the tube of a flower, she sipped nectar as easily as you can suck lemonade through a straw.

One of Violet Tip's names was Grapta. So that is what we may as well call the daughter-caterpillar that was in one of the eggs that had been put on the elm leaves. The egg was lovely as a tiny green jewel. It was almost barrel-shaped, and it had ridges and delicate white creases.

The weather was warm and baby Grapta stayed inside the pretty eggshell for only four days. Then she nibbled a hole in the top of her thin barrel and poked out her shiny bald head. She had a droll way of nodding it as she crept over the ragged edge.


Grapta hatched from one of Violet Tip's eggs and grew to be a spiny caterpillar

A taste of eggshell seemed all right for part of her breakfast; but very soon the baby caterpillar was ready for something more nourishing. There was nothing anywhere near Grapta except elm leaves—elm leaves beneath her, elm leaves above her, elm leaves on every side of her. However, that was just the food Grapta needed for the present. Such a diet agreed with her quite as well as a menu of hop or nettle or other closely related plants.


Violet Tip and her brothers and sisters had eaten elm‑leaf salads

Like all growing caterpillars, Grapta molted her skin several times. The outer covering of her head came off and she got rid of even the lining of her breathing tubes. Of course new ones grew. She could not eat for a few hours before she molted. Her jaws would not work. And I suppose she had no appetite. But each time she shed her skin her mouth became larger than before and she could eat faster.

Her last caterpillar-suit was quite different from her first one. Its color was brown with many fine white markings. It was covered with rows of branched spines.

After Grapta grew to be as large as a caterpillar of her kind can be, she spun some silk. Most caterpillar silk is white or cream-colored or gray or brown. But Grapta's silk was pink—rather a bright pink, too.

She did not make a cocoon with her silk fibers. She spun and wove a thin pad on the underside of an elm twig. She put a tuft of silk near the center of the pad.

Grapta was a natural acrobat. She took hold of this silk tuft with her hind feet and then swung head down. She did this the first time she tried.


Grapta and one of her sisters when they were chrysalises

While she was hanging in this position a change was going on inside her spiny coat. Several hours later this old garment ripped; and quite a different Grapta wriggled out of it. There was no longer a caterpillar hanging from the silk tuft. The object that was there was a chrysalis.

Grapta certainly had a queer shape while she was in this stage. One end of her body looked like a head with two stiff horns and a big Roman nose. The other part had bright spots that looked like gold and silver and rows of little spikes.

After staying inside her chrysalis case for nearly two weeks, Grapta broke this thin covering and crept out of it. Of course this time she was a butterfly. She felt no interest at all in elm leaves. A new world lay before her. She faced a flood of sunshine through which breezes brought the fragrance of flowers. Gradually her wings stretched out like lovely brown sails with violet tips.

You will not be surprised by what Grapta did next. She left the bough of that great elm which had been her safe harbor (through egg-days and larva-days and pupa-days); and drifted away to the glorious goldenrod islands where she drank the first nectar she had ever tasted.

When the autumn days grew cool, Grapta sought a nook where she might rest long and quietly.

Like Rana the yelping frog, and Lotor the raccoon, and Whistling Wejack the woodchuck, and Sir Talis the serpent, Grapta, the frail violet-tipped butterfly, passed the cold winter weeks in that strange sleep that is called hibernation.

The sunshine of springtime wakened her before the plants had their nectar ready to serve. But Grapta did not go hungry. Sap, leaking from bruised bark on oaks and other trees, had a savory tang. And before many days some early spring blossoms held their cups of nectar for her and other thirsty insects.

But at last there came a day, as there had come to her mother, when her own hunger and thirst were forgotten. She turned away from the fragrance of flowers and their sweet juices. A most important journey lay before her. She needed no map or compass to show her the way. As thousands of generations of violet-tipped butterflies had done before her, Grapta set sail for the good old Port of Elm.