Tag Archives: nature

Fibonacci sequence in nature

Counting on daisies

Did you know that the number of petals on a flower, like the numbers of many other things in nature, is often a number from the Fibonacci sequence?

In the Fibonacci sequence, each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89.

Daisies commonly have 34, 55 or 89 petals, though those numbers may be an average rather than specific to an individual flower.

The game “He loves me, he loves me not,” is played by stating each phrase in turn while removing a petal from a daisy flower. The phrase accompanying removal of the last petal is considered to be true. The result would obviously depend upon the type of flower chosen, as well as the number of petals on the particular flower.

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has challenged writers to in 99 words (no more, no less) include white flowers in your story. This is a repeat prompt, but one that has an ability to be emotive. Humor, drama, irony — go wherever the white flowers lead.

The prompt led me to incorporate the two snippets of information above into an is true/isn’t true story on a topic often hotly debated by young children at this Christmassy time of the year.

daisy

You can count on it

“Is too,” he screamed, running away, blinded by tears.

Across the enormous park, he plonked himself down in a patch of wild daisies, and began pulling them up, ripping them apart.

“It can’t be. They don’t know anything.” Fists clenched against doubt that threatened annihilation.

As tears subsided to sobs, his petal removal became more rhythmical, purposeful: “Is true. Isn’t true. Is true. Isn’t true …” He crushed the remains, then plucked another: “Is true. Isn’t true. Is true …” Nooo!

He started again: “Isn’t true. Is true …”

“I knew it! Santa is true! White flowers don’t lie.”

(To read my response to the previous ‘white flowers’ prompt, click here.)

To read others’ thoughts on the topic of “Is it true?” click here and here.

Thank you blog post

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Who gives a crap?

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills asks “Who gives a crap?” and about what. She declares some things that are important to her, things she gives a crap about, including, but not limited to:

  • the environment
  • nature
  • truth
  • principles
  • equality
  • diversity
  • jobs for all
  • literature and it’s role in society, and
  • conflict resolution.

She says that

“Conflict resolution is finding a peaceful solution to a disagreement. It’s drawing back my hand from the urge to smack. It’s letting go of a need to punish. It’s hearing both sides of the concerns and working toward a way to save our environment and jobs. It means acknowledging the rights or privileges of all. It means agreeing to disagree with compassion for the other. It means uplifting the lowest in our midst instead of only seeking to better our own. It also means checking our words and behavior.”

I give a crap about education. I care about the education of our children. It is through education that we can make a difference in the world; but we can only do that if we educate our children to be thinking, caring, responsible, contributing participants in society and inhabitants of the planet.

We need to teach children about their relationship with the environment, and the impact of their individual, and our collective, actions.

We need to give children time to experience nature and the outdoors; to marvel at its beauty, to appreciate its diversity, and to wonder …

We need to model for children a principled life, in which truth, equality, and diversity are valued, and in which the collective good is more important than an individual’s need for fame or fortune.

We acknowledge that making mistakes is integral to an individual’s learning and tell children it is okay to make, and learn from, mistakes. We encourage them to think for themselves and to be innovative, to see alternative solutions to problems.

If we were to teach them to just accept things as they are because that’s the way they’ve always been (and I query that statement!) how can we expect them to come up with solutions to issues that confront us?

Some of the conflicts mentioned by Charli; for example, providing jobs and preserving the environment, have resulted from our learning, our development, our education.

Maybe we should consider that making mistakes is also integral to our collective learning and development; and be prepared to accept them as such, learn from them, and devise alternative solutions.

For example: We learned about fossil fuels. We saw how they would enhance our lifestyle, and we implemented that learning, creating many new jobs as a consequence.

Now we see that some of those advancements are not as beneficial overall as was initially thought. We made a mistake. It is time for reassessment, for learning, and for thinking of new strategies. We need to leave behind what does not work, and embrace the next step in our development.

Charli asks, “When did we start thinking that only our crap matters and stop giving a crap about others?”

For a while the focus moved away from the importance of community to the importance of the individual and individual rights. Maybe now it’s time to put the focus on community and the role of the individual in it. Let’s not ask what the community/humanity/the world can do for me, but what I can do for the community/humanity/the world.

This brings me back to Charli’s flash fiction prompt to: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that expresses a strong concern, something to give a crap about. Something that brings out the feeling to stand up. How can you use it to show tension or reveal attitudes?”

This is my response. I hope you enjoy it.

Pulling together

“It’s mine!” they spat at each other. With faces red and contorted, they pulled in opposite directions.

The object finally stretched to its limit and ripped apart, catapulting the opponents backwards to land on their derrieres.

“Now look what you’ve done!” they accused each other, and scrambled to retrieve what was salvageable.

They contemplated the useless fragments. There were no winners, only losers. Their eyes, previously filled with hate, now brimmed with sorrow.

“What have we done?”

Moving together, each comforted the other, feeling as much for the other’s loss as for their own.

“Let’s start anew,” they said.

I’d love to know what situation you think my story might be about. I’d also love to know what it is that you give a crap about.

Oh, and thanks to Bec’s reminder, I will mention the Who gives a crap toilet paper (that is far from crappy and great for the environment) that Charli mentioned in her post, and I previously mentioned in Around the Campfire.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Learning environment

 

gardeningIn last week’s post I shared information about research projects students could become involved in to be scientists in real life. Some of the projects such as Project BudBurst and BudBurst Buddies encourage junior scientists to observe and record changes in plants throughout the changing seasons. Many commenting on the post agreed that projects such as these would make the learning of science come alive. Pauline King the Contented Crafter even commented that she may have to reconsider her opinion of schools if children were involved in projects such as these.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Shortly after posting I read an article on Co.Exist describing a preschool that doubles as urban farm where Kids learn among the plants and animals in this design for a radically different education environment.”  A bit like my concept of an early learning caravan, the school does not actually exist. The design was entered into and won an architecture competition. It is an interesting concept and I especially like the suggestion that children spend more time learning about nature through experiencing it in wild spaces in the outdoors rather than only through classroom activities and books, both of which do have their role.

Jeannie Baker - planet changing

I have previously shared the wonderful books of Jeannie Baker which have strong environmental themes encouraging children to care for nature and appreciate the natural wonders and beauty of the world around them.

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This morning, thanks to a recommendation from Sarah Brentyn who blogs at Lemon Shark, I received another lovely book in the post that will sit among my favourites. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown tells the story of how a curious boy helps transform a city from a drab grey concrete jungle to a one filled with gardens and gardeners. The story affirms the belief that the actions of one person can make a difference.

Never-doubt-that-a-small - Margaret Mead

I am currently listening to Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment and the Human Prospect, an interesting and thought-provoking book by environmentalist David W. Orr who challenges the focus of schools and advocates for learning outdoors in the natural environment. He may approve of the preschool farm, but he’d probably be more in favour of a forest preschool.

This, however, is only a small part of his position and I do not wish to misrepresent it. In an article, which reads like a chapter from the book, Orr describes “Six myths about the foundations of modern education, and six new principles to replace them”. The part of me that strives towards meliorism is seriously challenged by the picture Orr paints. The picture books, stories, and research projects are fine; but there’s much more to be done if we want to do more than simply wish for a greener future.

I agree with Orr wholeheartedly that education for, with and through the environment is essential; and that many of our problems are caused by miseducation. However, I had not thought about education in the way that Orr explains. I think I’ll be sharing more of his work in future posts.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

The intrigue of nature 

By nature, young children are explorers and discovers. Their purpose is to investigate the world around them and figure out what’s in it, how it works, and how they can get it to work for themselves. It takes little effort on the part of parents and early childhood teachers to nurture this innate curiosity and stimulate an interest in the natural world.

Sharing in the excitement of children’s discoveries is a marvellous experience and something I loved about having my own young children and working in early childhood classrooms, I now have the additional privilege of sharing in the wonder with my grandchildren. I feel very proud watching my two children, their dad and aunt, as together they explore the flora and fauna in our backyard. I know I have done something right.

These are just a few of the wonders we found this year:

The ladybird life cycle on our beautiful wattle tree.

© Bec Colvin

© Bec Colvin

A bee on the same wattle tree.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

A case moth attached to the rainwater tank.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Nuts already forming on my little gum tree.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Flowers on the native ginger.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Plover eggs in a nest.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

The plover sitting on the eggs.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Fruit on the sandpaper fig.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Bottlebrush sawfly larvae.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

A silver orb spider.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Flowers on my wattle tree.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills was talking about having a “looky-loo”, I’d probably call it a “sticky-beak”, at the effects of a river in flood, and described the way that neighbours help each other out, even if they’ve never met before. But Charli dives deep into the analogy of a flooded river, feeling washed out and overwhelmed by the rising tide of fear fuelled by a lack of understanding and appreciation of difference. She pleads for all of us to find our common ground, to realise that, while we are complex and contradictory, we share the same needs and wants. She says that if we don’t understand we should, “Ask, don’t judge. Learn, don’t isolate.”

Charli got me thinking about these issues, as she always does. I wondered, if we value, appreciate and marvel at diversity in the natural world, why don’t we appreciate it in other humans? After all, we are merely part of the natural world. That we have done more than any other species in manipulating it doesn’t alter that fact. Why can’t we all just agree to live and let live? Why do some think otherwise?

These thoughts reminded me of something I had heard in a fascinating TED talk by Ed Yong, called Zombie roaches and other parasite tales. Ed Yong is a science journalist on a mission to “ignite excitement for science in everyone”. He blogs at Not Exactly Rocket Science for National Geographic.

This particular TED talk is fascinating, funny, disgusting and very informative, with a little of something for everyone. He throws in terms like “mind control”, “eaten alive”, and “bursts out of body”. Science fiction has nothing on science fact.

He begins the talk by questioning whether animals choose their behaviour such as gathering in large flocks or herds for safety. He then talks about the popular children’s science “pet” brine shrimp, or sea monkey, and the ways in which a parasitic tapeworm influences the shrimp’s behaviour to enable its own reproductive cycle. He says, “The tapeworm hijacks their brains and their bodies, turning them into vehicles for getting itself into a flamingo.”

But that is just the first of his stories of animals behaving in ways as a result of the mind-control of parasites. He describes others and says that “Manipulation is not an oddity. It is a critical and common part of the world around us, and scientists have now found hundreds of examples of such manipulators, and more excitingly, they’re starting to understand exactly how these creatures control their hosts.

He describes a wasp that attacks a cockroach and “un-checks the escape-from-danger box in the roach’s operating system”. I wondered if this same box could be un-checked in humans. Not surprisingly, Ed went on to discuss humans but said that our methods of mind control were fairly primitive compared to the techniques of parasites. He said that this is what makes the study of parasites so compelling. We value our free will and fear having our minds controlled by others, but this situation occurs all the time in nature.

Yong then asks what he considers an obvious and disquieting question:

“Are there dark, sinister parasites that are influencing our behaviour without us knowing about it …?

He talks about a parasite that manipulates cats, a parasite that many people have in their brains. While there is no conclusive evidence of parasitic manipulation of human behaviour, Yong suggests that “it would be completely implausible for humans to be the only species that weren’t similarly affected.” I urge you to have a looky-loo at the now not-so-secret behaviour of these parasites. I’m certain you will be as entertained as you are informed and challenged.

So from a looky-loo in my backyard to a looky-loo at the world of parasites we come to my response to Charli’s flash fiction challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a looky-loo.

Copy-cat Sticky-beak

High in the branches Maggie practised her repertoire.  She watched people scurrying: erecting tents and marking long white lines.  She absorbed the rhythm of new songs: thump-thump, clink-clink.

She breakfasted on scarab beetles and was ready when the children arrived. But they didn’t notice her playful mimicry. Instead they flooded the field with colourful shirts and excited chatter.

Maggie watched silently. Soon she heard an unfamiliar song: “Go team, go team, go!” She flew to the top of the biggest tent and joined in. The children listened, then cheered. Maggie felt she’d almost burst. Instead she sang, and sang.

Perhaps we could learn from the magpie, one who looks, listens and learns and shows appreciation for others in the most sincere form of flattery: singing their song.

I love awakening to the beautiful songs of the magpie every morning. I chose to share this particular video, as yesterday we were also visited by a beautiful king parrot such as the one featured in this video. Awesome.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

A Celebration of Australian picture books #5 — Jeannie Baker

Jeannie Baker - planet changing

This post is the fifth in a series celebrating picture books by Australian authors. If you missed earlier posts, please follow these links to the introduction, Mem Fox, Kim Michelle Toft and Narelle Oliver.

In this post I introduce you to Jeannie Baker, a collage artist and author. Jeannie was born in the UK but has lived most of her adult life in Australia, and most of her books, though having universal themes, are set in Australia.

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Jeannie had already published a number of books prior to 1992 when I first became aware of her work through “Window”, winner of the Australian Picture Book of the Year Award.

Window tells, in beautifully detailed collage, of the transformation of a landscape from natural bush to city-scape. The changes are observed through a window by a boy as he celebrates alternate birthdays from birth to 24 years. Like many of Jeannie’s books, “Window” carries a strong environmental message. In her note at the end of the book, she says,

“Our planet is changing before our eyes. However, by understanding and changing the way we personally affect the environment, we can make a difference.”

The intricate details in this textless picture book provide many opportunities for discussion. Children and adults are enticed to study and compare the changes that take place in each successive picture. The carefully constructed collages give a sense of being able to almost step into the scene and experience the sights, sounds and smells of each landscape.

Jeannie Baker - time

I was fortunate to attend an exhibition of Jeannie’s artwork for “Window” as it toured the country in 1992. What surprised me most was the size of the collages. With all their detail I had expected them to be quite large; but they weren’t. They are miniature, much smaller than a page of the picture book on which they appear. The collection and arrangement of a mix of natural and artificial materials is amazing. Jeannie describes the process of constructing her collages here.

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In 2004 Jeannie published a companion book to “Window” called “Belonging, which, in 2005, also received a number of awards, including one from the Wilderness Society. This textless picture book tells a story of a changing landscape over a number of years as a city is transformed with plants and welcoming spaces for children and families. In a note at the end of this book, Jeannie says,

“It takes time … But by understanding the land on which we live and by caring for it we can choose between just having a place to live or belonging to a living home.”

2015-09-19 11.10.25

One Hungry Spideris the third of Jeannie’s books I own. Unlike “Window” andBelonging, the illustrations in this one are accompanied by text. One Hungry Spideris a counting book, but a counting book with a difference: it includes information about the spider. For example when one of seven ladybirds gets caught in the web we find out that “the spider took no notice (because) spiders don’t like the taste of ladybirds.” And when nine wasps fly by the spider left the web and hid because wasps catch spiders. Additional details about the spider are provided at the back of the book. Once again the illustrations throughout the book are magnificent.

Surprisingly I own only these three of Jeannie’s books. However I am familiar with others. At school I had access to many of her titles in big book format (approximately 50 x 40 cm) which were perfect for sharing with a class of children.

4 of Jeannie Baker's books

These are other favourites:

Where the Forest Meets the Sea”, “The Hidden Forest”, “Mirrorand The Story of Rosy Dock”.

Are you familiar with Jeannie’s work? If so, which ones and what do you think of them?

Please check out these and other titles of Jeannie’s if you have a chance. Their illustrations will intrigue you and their positive messages will inspire you.

As a writer, I found inspiration in Jeannie’s response to the question,

“Of all the books you have made, which is your favourite?”

She answered,

“When a book is finally finished, I find it hard to think about it anymore …I want to fill my
head with something totally different, with a new book.  My favourite book is the
‘new’ book I’m working on, still working out and trying to make better than the books I
made before it!”

I think that indicates a strong growth mindset and Jeannie’s joy in the “continual challenges this medium gives … to invent techniques and explore and experiment with materials and their textures.”

Jeannie Baker - favourite book

It affirms the quest for improvement and a reason to embrace the challenges we both set for ourselves and meet along the way.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

A celebration of Australian picture books #4 — Narelle Oliver

This post is the fourth in a series celebrating picture books by Australian authors. If you missed earlier posts, please follow these links to the introduction, Mem Fox and Kim Michelle Toft.

Narelle Oliver

In this post I introduce you to Narelle Oliver, a Brisbane-based author and illustrator. There is much to explore on Narelle’s site, including: information about her writing process and tips for would-be picture book authors; the research involved in creating her books, many of which are about nature; and illustration techniques that involve the use of linocut printing and rubbing, and other assorted media.

Narelle conducts workshops for children and adults. She visits schools to share with children the wonder of her books and talks to them about her writing and illustrating processes. When she visited “my” school she brought along first thoughts and illustrations for, and a dummy book of, The Very Blue Thingamajig, plus a soft toy prototype – and we all wanted one! She also brought a fox from the museum and talked about illustrating Fox and fine feathers. She read to the children, involved them in activities and gave them an experience of linocut printing. It was fascinating for both children and teachers.

Narelle talks about her workshops and sessions in this video.

While you can find a complete list of Narelle’s books here, I will share those I have on my bookshelf (in no particular order).

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The Very Blue Thingamajig is as story about difference and acceptance told in a fun way involving mathematical concepts of patterns, counting and days of the week. The colourful illustrations made using hand-coloured linocuts are appealing, and children love to find the little bird who provides a secondary story throughout the book. On Narelle’s fun page you can colour and decorate your own thingamajig.

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Dancing the Boom Cha Cha Boogie is a gorgeous tale of three little murmels who are washed out to sea in an arkel and arrive on a foreign shore where they are not welcomed by the resident snigs. They are imprisoned until when, the arkel is repaired, they are to leave. At night a young snig releases the murmels who teach the snig to have fun. In the end the murmels are accepted and stay happily in Snigdom with the snigs, learning from and enjoying each other’s company. This book is illustrated with hand-coloured linocuts.

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Fox and fine feathers is a story of friendship, of looking out for each other and keeping each other safe. The attention to detail in these linocut illustrations coloured with pencils and pastels is amazing and accurately depicts the five creatures and the forest setting. Narelle has supported the story with information about the birds, their habitat and the dangers imposed by the feral fox, which is now a serious threat, along with other feral animals, to native species in Australia.

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Narelle Oliver Collection of three stories: Leaf Tail, The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay and The Hunt.

  • Leaf Tail, Narelle’s first picture book, illustrated by beautiful linocuts, tells the story of a leaf tail gecko and the importance of camouflage to survival in the Queensland forest.
  • The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay, also illustrated with hand-coloured linocuts, tells of a squabble between five different birds, each professing its own beak to be the best. Finally clever pelican holds a contest that enables the birds to see that each beak is best in its own way. As well as a delightful story about wildlife, it also provides a springboard into discussions about, and appreciation of, differences.
  • The Hunt is another beautifully illustrated wildlife story of camouflage and survival. The story is supported with information about its setting and the workings of animal camouflage and disguise. There are also black and white drawings showing where to find the animals camouflaged in each illustration. It is fun to see if all the animals can be found without referring to the guide.

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Home, referred to in a previous post Home or away, is perhaps a favourite if only because it is based on a true story of a pair of peregrine falcons that nested at the top of a 27-storey building in the city of Brisbane. The birds, named Frodo and Frieda, fascinated a city and, for a while, had their own reality show “Frodocam”. The story, beautifully illustrated using a combination of media including linocut rubbings, collage, photographs, pencil, pastels and watercolours, tells of the adaptation of wildlife to new landscapes and environments.

Each of these books can be appreciated for its story or used as a springboard for discussion. The illustrations appeal to adults and children alike for the attention to detail and accurate representation of wildlife. The addition of supporting information encourages an appreciation for wildlife and their habitats and develops an awareness of the need for their protection. They would be a wonderful addition to any book collection and be much appreciated as gifts.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Breathe – a sense of wonder!

Life is short – enjoy every moment!

I have been privileged to spend time with young children throughout my adult life: my own, children I have taught, and now my grandchildren. Spending time with young children is one of the best ways of maintaining a sense of wonder and awe in the everyday. Opportunities abound, if one is willing to see the world afresh through their eyes,

to notice:

  • the softness of petals in a newly opened flower
  • the collection of pollen on a bee’s legs as it rests within the flower
  • the snail’s silver trail on the pavement

to question:

  • where the puddle goes after the rain
  • how the toothpaste gets into the tube
  • how aeroplanes stay in the air

 to wonder:

  • why the sky is blue
  • where clouds come from
  • why tigers have stripes and kangaroos hop
  • what came first: the chicken or the egg

One of my favourite ways of bringing the wonders of nature into the classroom is through observations of a live butterfly kit. We would watch the tiny caterpillars hatch, eat voraciously as they grew larger and larger, and then pupate before emerging triumphantly as beautiful butterflies.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

There are many opportunities to notice, to question and to wonder:

  • What will happen if the caterpillars eat all the leaves?
  • How big will the caterpillars grow?
  • How long will it take for the caterpillar to change into a butterfly?
  • How does the caterpillar breathe?
  • Does the caterpillar know it is going to be a butterfly?
  • Does the butterfly remember being a caterpillar?
  • What happens to the caterpillar in the chrysalis?
  • Why do they poo so much?

We got to know that when a caterpillar was ready to pupate, it made a ‘j’ shape, hanging from under a leaf or branch, or from the top of the butterfly house. It would stay that way for a number of hours. Children (and teacher) would sneak over from time to time to see if anything was happening.

As soon as the caterpillar started wriggling, we would quietly rush over to watch as it shed its last skin to become a pupa. It is an amazing spectacle, one that is not often seen “in the wild”. In fact it is a very quick process, and unless someone just happened to be watching at the time, we would miss it. Although we didn’t see every caterpillar pupate, we saw enough to appreciate and wonder.

Equally as exciting was watching a butterfly emerge from the chrysalis. As the time was approaching the chrysalis would become transparent and we could see the shape and colour of the butterfly’s wings through the chrysalis. Watching the butterfly push open the chrysalis and emerge with crumpled wings was amazing. Oftentimes the butterflies would emerge in the mornings before the children arrived. But sometimes they waited, and we all watched as the butterflies pumped up their wings and spread them to dry in readiness for flying.

When the butterflies’ wings were dry and they were almost ready to fly we would remove them from the house. If we timed it just right, we could hold them on our fingers, transferring carefully from fingertip to fingertip without touching the wings. When they were ready to fly, we would go outside and release them. The children loved to look for the butterflies at lunch time and learned that observation was the best way to appreciate them.

varied eggfly

Varied eggfly © NorahColvin

The children’s interest and excitement was shared with anyone who visited the classroom: administrators, other teachers and children, siblings and parents.  I tend to think that the children’s sense of wonder may have ignited a spark in others too.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a breathless moment. Write about life.

Watching the short stages of a butterfly’s life is a good way to get children thinking about life, its beauty and its frailty, its dangers and its strength.  Watching the transformations that take place can certainly take one’s breath away. It is this that has inspired my response to Charli’s challenge.  I hope you enjoy it.

Breaths - life is not measured

Eclosion

I heard the scurry of footsteps. Then he was in the doorway; eyes ablaze, breathless.

“Come … quick … Miss,” he said, punctuating each word with puffs and pants.

Before I had moved, there were others behind him, imploring me to come.

With quickened pace I followed, hoping that I, that all, would be in time.

Others were there already, clustered around. I peered over their heads, expectantly, holding my breath in a vain attempt to make time stand still.

“Ahh!” we breathed in unison and awe as we watched the butterfly emerge from its now transparent shell.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.