She spent three days climbing the massive maple tree. She climbed in the rain, in the sun, and even at night, narrowly avoiding enormous cardinals and crows, hiding within the folds of the bark whenever the enemy loomed. Gusts of wind threatened to throw her from the tree a time or two, but she held tightly and persevered.
After the long, tiring journey, she could finally rest. She perched herself on a high branch with plenty of wooded crevices in case the birds should return. The winged beasts would not likely be a problem, however, as the branch she now occupied lived inside a giant house. A treehouse.
The limb on which she sat jutted from the trunk like an outstretched arm and poked through a hole in the house’s wall. From this vantage point, she could see everything that went on inside the treehouse. A menacing spider had built its web in the far corner (she would be sure to avoid that side of the building), and a colony of ants scurried single file down the trunk and into the open. She had spent the better part of the afternoon relaxing and admiring the treehouse. It appeared just as strong and stable as the tree in which it was built, and it was clean. This would be the perfect place to settle down.
She was already older than most of her friends, but that didn’t bother her. Everyone else had set off on their journeys days before her, searching for the perfect location to settle down and begin their transformation. It had taken her longer than usual to find the right spot—maybe that was on purpose. Everyone else was eager to get it over with, but she was unsure of what lay ahead. When she woke that morning, she convinced herself that she would do it by the end of the week. But still, what if—
A crash rang out below and the treehouse shook. She hurried into a small cave on the underside of the limb and looked down. In the corner of the treehouse, a trapdoor had flung open and two small hands gripped the top rung of the ladder below. It was a small boy, and his knuckles were ghostly white as he hoisted himself into the building.
He paced in circles around the tree, stomping and muttering to himself, eyes locked on the floor in front of him. It went on like this for some time, and his face grew a deeper shade of red with every lap.
He stopped suddenly beneath the limb that she was hiding in, let out a distressed shout, and kicked the tree. She hung tightly as faint vibrations carried all the way into her limb. The boy sat and cried, clutching his foot and mumbling to himself.
She wasn’t sure what was going on. During her journey up the tree, the boy had always appeared happy. He smiled as he played fetch with the great hound, and laughed as he chased another boy around the yard. This couldn't be the same person.
She peaked her head out to get a better look. Sure enough, it was him. He had sandy blond hair and countless scrapes and bruises on his knees from playing with his friends or wrestling the dog. His body was small and innocent, trembling with every breath.
A voice called out from beneath the treehouse. A man’s voice. The boy did not respond.
She looked toward the trapdoor and saw a man crawling in slowly, carefully, as if the treehouse might come crashing down with any sudden movement. Looking altogether too large for the building, the man squeezed through the door and stood, crouching so as not to hit his head on the branches that exited the trunk. He leaned against the wall next to the boy and sat down. They sat in silence.
The treehouse was large, but still she felt like an inadvertent third member of their unspoken conversation. The air was warm with their body heat and they looked remarkably uncomfortable.
The man began to speak in a low, deep voice that resonated throughout the space.
The boy shook his head—slowly at first, but speeding up as the man went on. He shouted back, but the man remained calm and unaffected. Turning, the man reached out a hand but the boy recoiled, as if his touch were the hot pavement on a sunny day. The father sighed.
Tears streaming down his face, the boy stood and marched away, down the ladder and out of the treehouse. Through the small window, she saw him break into a run, away from tree, the man, and the conversation that he didn’t want to have. The man sat motionless on the floor, staring at the tree in front of him, legs bunched to his chest. He wept.
She sat with the man and soaked in his pain. She didn’t belong here with him in this moment. Something was changing in their lives, she knew, and whatever change it was, it was difficult. It was uncomfortable. It hurt. But they had to go through it, because that’s the only way to get to the other side.
The man collected himself and wiped away his tears. Not wanting to stand in the cramped space, he crawled back to the trapdoor and out of the treehouse.
Through the window, she saw that the boy had returned and was walking toward the treehouse and the man. They embraced, and the boy nearly disappeared within his arms, comforted and protected. They walked away.
The two people that had entered the treehouse were not the same ones she saw walking away, arm in arm. Who knows what they were thinking when they ascended that ladder, leaving the solid ground that gave them comfort, climbing into the unknown. But they came out the other side, and it looked like everything was going to be alright.
As she continued to look out the window, a vibrant green leaf caught her attention, gently swaying with the wind. In just a few months, the leaf would turn a brilliant scarlet, and the tree would beam like evening sunlight. But then the leaves would fall. Some would attempt to hang on, struggling in vain as the evening came earlier and the wind blew colder, but every leaf would drop in the end. The winter might be bleak, but in the spring the tree would be taller, broader, stronger, and the leaves would sprout again.
The caterpillar looked at the branch above, and she began to weave.