Today has been a day of reflection. I spent it mostly in my garden, praying and planting. I like to sing songs I make up, kind of like musical prayers, thanking God for all the beauty in the flowers and trees, butterflies and sky. Did I tell you about planting all the milkweed plants last year, and purchasing a kit plus six Monarch caterpillars to raise? Well, all but one cat died after I agonized over them for 2 weeks. I carried the little net butterfly “castle” into the house and out to the yard 2 and 3 times a day, thinking they needed fresh air, warm air, no air, more plants to eat, fresh water, distilled water, less humidity and on, and on…. I tried to perform caterpillar ressussitation on them as they died agonizingly slow butterfly baby deaths.
The Monarch place should not sell these kits to people with OCD and Bipolar disorder! I don’t think I slept for a solid month- dreaming when I dozed about great huge butterflys with machetes trying to break down the door!! Then ( finally!) one of the cats made it to chrysalis stage, and I chewed my fingers off waiting for her to come out! It was the longest 2 weeks of my life, and then there she was one morning, hanging upside down on a branch of milkweed, drying her little wings!
Did I say little wings? Because they seemed awfully little to me, and if I stared really hard at her it seemed like one little wing was little-er than the other! And it was wrinkled!! aaargh! The Butterfly guys were getting tired of my phone calls, they kept referring me to their butterfly wing repair video, I finally realized the guy probably didn’t even know a butterfly from his butt cheek.
It turned out that the wings do start out small and wrinkled, and after an hour or so as she dried, her wings filled with tiny butterfly blood until they worked almost perfectly!
By now I was close to cursing the day I ever read the story of how the Monarch population had nearly been wiped out through farmer’s using pesticides to kill the milkweed that intermingled with their field edges, And about the freeze that hit their migration spot in Mexico a year back, wiping out nearly all of the Monarchs that wintered there. But I was still so moved by their plight, and so in love with my little survivor, that I was more determined than ever to see this endeavor through!!!
So I treasured my baby Monarch with her amazingly delicate wings. I helped her learn to fly, and we took little test runs in my room , getting ready for the big day! It was a very cold January here in South Florida, and she would get very sluggish in the cold. Oh, and the wind- it was ferocious! A cutting, icy wind from the frozen north, not the balmy spring breeze she needed to flourish. While I fretted about her release date I learned more about her amazing species. How they migrate each year, from as far away as Canada, all the way to Mexico! And then, miraculously, they fly all the way back to where they were born! A butterfly on a thousand mile journey. And if my Mable would make it, then her offspring would forever call this home, coming back year after year to my little field of milkweed! Her caterpillars would eat this milkweed down to nubs, because it is their “host” plant- the only one the finicky cats will eat… the only.
I remembered that back in 1984, when I moved here, Monarch butterflies used to come to a specific place in a neighboring town, using it as a smaller, closer migration destination. That is until a huge housing development took over the entire tract of land, even having to outrageous audacity to use the majestic Monarch butterfly as it’s logo. Twelve foot tall stucco butterflies adorn all their exterior retaining walls, like using Native American’s tribal symbols on lands they owned and were expelled from.
What are we doing? What are we thinking?
I finally released my little Mable, on a blue-sky day when the wind didn’t bite as much. She wobbled and wavered to finally light on one of the milkweed plants in the garden, while I ran inside and hid, too worried to watch her leave home. I went out to rescue her and hour later, sure that it was the wrong day to send her out on her own, but there was no trace of her. I cried.
Days, and then a couple months went by with no sign of any Monarchs, but my little plants were big now, all full of bright, happy orange and red flowers. Then one day I happened to see a Monarch flitting about near the milkweed garden, and I dashed in the house to drag Dad out to see. We caught a glimpse of her as she flew on her circuitous path over the garden fence, and we came in the house joyful. I was so happy.
Weeks went by, and I gave it no more thought. The weather started to warm, and I had many stresses and worries in my life. my garden was pushed to the back burner. One day a month ago, I managed to take a break, and went out under my giant oak to clear my head and pray. I slowly wandered over to look at the flowers, and was furious when I saw that my milkweed were nearly destroyed by insects! Angrily, I marched to get the hose and flush the pests away. Aphids, most likely, or those rotten grasshoppers! I turned the hose on full blast and dragged it back to the garden. I bent down to see which plant was the worst when- Oh, my GOODNESS!!!
There was a beautiful yellow and black Monarch caterpillar!! And look! Another! And Another!!
All told, I found eight monarch caterpillars feasting on my milkweed. Or rather, their milkweed! As I have watched lovingly they have grown and flourished, and although I did not see their amazing metamorphosis, I know it happened.How is that you ask?