If you are familiar with the Buzzard Brothers, the since-retired blues band that frequented Flagstaff venues in the 1990s and early 2000s, or 47-year Flagstaff local Grant Brad Gerver, you may have heard “The Caterpillar Waltz.”
With a catchy, upbeat groove, the children’s song presents the narrative of Gerver’s son, 6-year-old Casey Spike Gerver, during a day at Wheeler Park. When Gerver saw a caterpillar had fallen from an elm tree onto his arm, he passed the creature off to his son and watched as the boy stood on tiptoe, stretching as high as he could to gently return the caterpillar to its tree.
“It moved me so greatly I just had to go home and write a song about it,” Gerver said, a self-proclaimed “compulsive songwriter.”
The writing took almost no time at all, he explained, because he wanted the song to be simple yet meaningful, but not so sentimental he wouldn’t be able to perform it. The waltz was intended to be a tribute to his son’s characteristic kindness, from which others could learn. Decades later, his son is “still that same person,” Gerver gushed with fatherly pride.
For years, Gerver performed “The Caterpillar Waltz” with the Buzzard Brothers at local festivals and as a solo act to both his students at Weitzel School (now Puente de Hozho), where he taught for 30 years, and patients at Flagstaff Medical Center when he worked there as a mental health technician.
“My red-haired son/ Taught this to me/ You always put the caterpillar/ Back on to the tree,” the song begins before progressing into the chorus: “Oh caterpillar, caterpillar/ Don’t want to squish you green/ Just like me you deserve to live/ To fly in the magic breeze, oh/ To fly in the mystic breeze.”
As the song continues, it advises listeners to appreciate other creatures — even spiders — before circling back to conclude with the boy and the caterpillar: “Here is what he stands for/ So naturally/ You always put the caterpillar/ Back onto the tree.”
“When I look at the words, sing the words, I still can’t believe I wrote it,” Gerver said. “It’s been one of those universal songs that seems to really touch people.”
From song to book
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Although the caterpillar story has already reached hundreds of Flagstaff locals through Gerver’s performances alone, it now has a new format to reach others, thanks to help from Gerver’s longtime friend and former colleague Kathy Harper.
“Kathy would always request the caterpillar song,” he recalled. “It was her love of the song that made this possible.”
Harper speculated that maybe it was her 39 years as a teacher that gave her the desire to create a children’s book.
For the past two years, Harper and her husband have used Amazon’s self-publishing services to create a simple, yet tangible, children’s book using the lyrics of Gerver’s song. It also includes a link to an online video of Gerver performing the song.
Since the book’s publication in early April, more than 100 copies of the book have been sold. Gerver and Harper plan to donate all proceeds to a local children’s organization.
Casey, now 33 and a budding musician, said he hopes the book reaches as many children as possible.
For Harper, though, the goal is less lofty.
“If one kid gets touched by this book, it served its purpose,” she said.