It is some weeks since I spent a morning among the monarch butterflies at St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge. On their way to Mexico to overwinter, the monarchs make a multi-generational trek of 3,000 miles in spring and fall.
It is in the sunny lands they survive.
It seems to take at least four generations of butterflies to complete the trek. Only the monarchs know when it is time to go and for that matter, where to go. Some monarchs live as long eight months but others only long enough to mate and to lay eggs—a life of two to six weeks.
Because the trek is multi-generational, how do the butterflies always know? That is the mystery of the monarch migration. Inadvertently, mystery may be the greatest asset the monarchs have as they struggle to survive as a species.
Humans love a mystery. Often, we will take steps to preserve what we “have not yet figured out.” Recently, the monarch migration attracted the attention of the Canadian, American, and Mexican governments.
Perhaps the uniqueness of the monarch migration—its mystery—will hold their attention span long enough to restore butterfly habitat, thereby helping other pollinators as well. Perhaps….
At St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge, there has been a Monarch Festival for 26 years but in 2014 there was worry as less than a handful had arrived–but the monarchs did not miss their festival—they showed up one day before it began.
All these thoughts were mine as I sat among the monarchs—and that is almost literally true—for I was the lone human on a bench by the sea, next to bushes of butterflies. Gulf and sky were one shade of blue, shimmering in a sunny land.
Knock on the sky and listen to the sound!
In my moments with the monarchs, there seems no mystery, just a longing for sunny lands whether north or south. Neither the trek nor the distance matters. It is a migration for sunny lands, a yearning for survival, realizing that in order to arrive one must leave.
I watch the monarchs flock to saltbush, goldenrod and dotted horsemint bushes, diligent and methodical, trusting in the sun of this day as they spread their wings. They are on the move, after all.
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise
(Eternity, William Blake)
So it is to knock on the sky and listen.
As I sat among the monarchs that day, the refrain of “Sunnyland,” a Hot Tamale original ballad, played in my mind. On one level, it is a song of the human desire to migrate to sunny lands but like the monarch mystery, it has other levels.
Within a week of my moments with monarchs, Meredith published the succinct, “Milkweed Meditation.” The milkweed is the monarchs’ favorite bush.
Finally, the initial count of monarch butterflies may be up this year, a first in a long time, and the migration mystery remains.