What the hickory chicken is to spring, the catalpa worm is to summer. You just don’t eat em’. The catalpa worm is another special surprise that shows up in June or July. This worm is a delicacy for bluegill and catfish. To be more specific, the catalpa caterpillar is the larval stage of the catalpa sphinx moth. These moths exclusively infest catalpa trees. I’m sure there is a more scientific name for these caterpillars, but to a bluegill or catfish fisherman, they are super-bait. A catalpa tree is a tree that has big broad leaves and pods of beans that are about a foot long. (We used to call them cigar trees) This worm loves to devour their leaves until there’s nothing left. In my youth years there was only one place to garner this bait – at the cemetery. I really don’t know how we came to find out about this place. It’s almost as if this knowledge was passed down by those who had made that same trip in their childhood. Regardless of the source, we knew this worm’s visitation would be short-lived. As quickly as they appeared, they would disappear until the next year. I can remember making a handful of bike trips every summer to this odd place to pick as many worms as I could reach. The occasional funeral procession, or the thought I was being watched by those who had passed on, didn’t detour me from my prize. Sometimes it took a gentle shake of a limb or a firm kick at the base of the tree to dislodge an extra worm. I’ve also even been known to climb one of these trees to get within reach. All in all, it’s another fond memory of days gone by.
Today, on occasion, I must attend a graveside service during this time of year. Many times, these services are in small, country cemeteries that are full of trees. Every time I make these trips my eyes scan the horizon for the familiar looking catalpa tree. While my eyes are gazing, my mind is wandering back to the days when a trip to the cemetery was of a lighter occasion and when the only sadness was in knowing that somebody had gotten there before I did.