The Free-Ride offspring made it through another school year. This year, we are participating in the ritual sending-home-of-living-things from the science classroom. Instead of scoring guppies, however, we now have a little container of eggs …
Dr. Free-Ride: I want to know about that little container you have in my fridge. What’s the story?
Elder offspring: Well, there’s silkworm eggs. They were laid by a silkworm.
Dr. Free-Ride: And?
Elder offspring: They’ll hatch into silkworms next Spring.
Dr. Free-Ride: Next Spring they will? So they’ll stay eggs between now and then?
Elder offspring: Yes. But we need to keep them in the fridge.
Dr. Free-Ride: And not accidentally eat them or something.
Elder offspring: No!!
Dr. Free-Ride: OK.
Elder offspring: You stored them in the butter compartment.
Dr. Free-Ride: Yes, thank you. I’m glad you are aware of that and that you stand ready to remind us. So, when they hatch, what are we supposed to do? What’s the protocol?
Elder offspring: Well, we put them in a container with some mulberry leaves.
Dr. Free-Ride: Which is why you’ve been lobbying for us to get a mulberry bush.
Elder offspring: Yes!
Dr. Free-Ride: But, see, since what you’re describing is raising the silkworms in containers with mulberry leaves, wouldn’t it be enough if we found someone who already had a mulberry bush and could supply us with leaves on a regular basis?
Elder offspring: Well … I don’t know anyone with a mulberry bush.
Dr. Free-Ride: I suppose I don’t either, at this point. But here’s my question: what would happen if we actually had a mulberry bush and we put the silkworms outside on the mulberry bush?
Elder offspring: You don’t put them outside on the mulberry bush!
Dr. Free-Ride: But – but – why not?
Elder offspring: Because, you’re supposed to keep them in a container so they don’t run away. Or get eaten by birds.
Dr. Free-Ride: See, I was more worried about predation than whether they’d run away. But if we’ve got the only mulberry bush in town, I could see the silkworms saying, where else is there to go for mulberry leaves?
Elder offspring: Silkworms might stay by the mulberry bush, but silkmoths are just there to lay eggs. They don’t eat and they only last about ten days. All they do is mate and lay eggs, mate and lay eggs, mate and lay eggs.
Dr. Free-Ride: Sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it?
Elder offspring: Yes. But in the end you have a whole lot of silkworms.
Dr. Free-Ride: So, with the silkworms-to-be in the fridge, do you have any plans for the silk?
Elder offspring: Not really. We could show it to people.
Dr. Free-Ride: You were telling me before that it takes quite a lot of cocoon to make any significant amount of silk.
Elder offspring: More than a hundred cocoons to make one pound of silk.
Dr. Free-Ride: We should grow flax instead, is what we should do. Then we can learn how to make linen. Of course, that doesn’t involve any worms.
Elder offspring: We’re not going to use the cocoons to harvest silk. Once the silkmoths hatch out, the cocoons are useless. What they do to get the silk is boil the cocoon in hot water, and then they unravel the silk.
Dr. Free-Ride: Hmm. Do you know how many eggs you have in there?
Elder offspring: I think about sixteen.
Dr. Free-Ride: Well, what if we let eight of them get to the silkmoth stage and boiled the other eight cocoons for silk?
Elder offspring: We’re not going to boil them!
Dr. Free-Ride: Why not?
Elder offspring: ‘Cause!
Dr. Free-Ride: That’s not really an answer. Tell me the reason you don’t want to. I’ll respect the reason, but I just want to hear you say it.
Elder offspring: Because I don’t want them to die!
Dr. Free-Ride: I see. It’s a humane treatment kind of issue.
Elder offspring: Would you like it if you were in a cocoon and someone boiled you?
Dr. Free-Ride: No, but I might understand it if my cocoon was made of really good stuff.
Elder offspring: Oh yeah?
Dr. Free-Ride: Actually, I probably wouldn’t. If I were making a cocoon my brain would probably be so tiny that I could understand very little.
Elder offspring: Even if you couldn’t understand, you could still feel — angry, hot, and dead.