It's gift giving time. The season when people run, grim-faced with list in hand, from store to store. We're buying happiness... or approval... or both. I also have a list so this is not an anti-commercial tirade.

It is a story though about one of the most special gifts my family and I ever received. It's a gift that has continued to give to us through our memories and in the telling of our stories.

It was July and we had invited Heather, a neighbouring cottager, and her toddler over for dinner. Since we were in a water-based community, she arrived by boat. We went down to the dock to do the "meet and greet" and help her get her things out of the boat and onto shore. She balanced in a bailing can, our gift for the evening.

It turned out to be the gift of the summer.

It was a stick with branches and leaves. Balanced along each of the two narrow branches was a green and yellow caterppillar. She brought the branch inside and we stuck it in a vase.

"These caterpillars will eventually become butterflies," she said. "Collect another branch with leaves like this so the caterpillars have enough to eat and just watch what happens."

Our friend gave us an experience that lasted the entire summer. Our children immediately named the caterpillars "Leafy" and "Gizmo." And we watched them daily at they formed the centrepiece at our table.

One morning we were treated to the miracle of the chrysalis as we came into the dining porch and there they were, suspended from threads and lime green translucence as the caterppillars were gone.

Our youngsters were bewildered and excitd all at once. For days, we tracked Leafy and Gizmo, and each day the chryusalis changed just a little until it was almost transparent with a cord of gold circling its girth in a spiral shape. We could see black underneath the surface of this tight little cone.

The magic happened one Sunday morning when we were down at the shore and came back from a swim. And up on the porch wall were two magnificent monarch butterflies, the shells of their chrysalis dangling from their perches. Leafy and Gizmo were waving their huge wings slowly, back and forth, air drying as they prepared themselves for flight.

Imagine our excitement as we participated in helping them on their journey to the Mexican valley which would be their winter home.

For the kids, waiting until they flew seemed to take forever, but they did fly and we helped them out the porch floor and on their way, yelling goodbye all the way.

Gifts? Presents? So often we are torn by what we are not able to afford to give. But when you measure the gifts of the past, the really important ones don't cost a nickel.

This gift was multifaceted; we slowed down to watch nature's incredible process; we participated with our children in a wonder of the world; we grew atttached to Leafry and Gizmo; we learned how to enjoy something, let it go and hold it in our memories. This gift transcended glitter and price tags. It took thought, energy, imaginatioon and courage. And 15 years later, it's still lasting...

Thanks, Heather!

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