Monarch Moments in a Sunny Land

The Monarch Bush 1014

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.

Monarchs on the Water 1014

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!
Zen saying

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.

18 thoughts on “Monarch Moments in a Sunny Land

  1. What a lovely photo, and what a lovely post! I will think of you sitting with the monarchs, and healing inside and out. I’ve been concerned because monarch sightings have been much rarer in my meadow the past couple of years, but maybe the insects are just changing the pattern slightly due to–who knows what? Still so many unknowns.


  2. We get monarchs here in NZ, but not in such numbers together, or such a migration. I think Blake very much sums up such moments of experience – and your words give me pause to think. As humanity continues to exploit this world, to ever greater scale, how much longer will anybody be able to experience such joys as a moment of contemplation surrounded by such a marvellous natural event as a monarch migration? Good to hear that their numbers might be increased. Thank you for sharing!


    1. Your point is my thought as well. I knew I was in a moment that was rare and would probably never occur again in the sense of just me being with the monarchs. As Kay mentioned, it was magical and to that, I will add powerful. As for the number increase, I am hopeful but it’s not just about planting habitat, as you know. It is as you say, our exploitation of the world. In that, there is no mystery. Thanks, Matthew!


  3. Karen, thank you so much for sharing our song “Sunnyland.” Your blog made me think of my own family. Both parents were born in Florida, migrated up North after the war, where I was born. We moved back to Miami around 1960. Later, I took off to college, got married, lived in many places, and returned with my own family in 1999. Like the Monarchs, drawn back generation after generation to Sunnyland. Thanks again!


    1. Beautiful line, Craig: “like the Monarchs, drawn back generation after generation to Sunnyland.” It is a great song, and I wish you and Adrian just the best with the new CD. As you know, listening to Hot Tamale is a favorite past-time of mine. I believe I am a groupie…a first for me. Thanks so much, Craig.


  4. Ray and I tagged monarchs at St. Marks for a number of years. When I spoke to the ranger about this year’s late migration she said that they have already adjusted the date of the festival because the migration is happening later and later and they will probably have to do so again. She saw it as very local proof of global warming. Thanks so much for sharing our song!


    1. I love that song and should have mentioned it is the title track on your new CD to be released in January. Frankly, I was just humming it this morning. Thanks, Adrian.


  5. Outside my window this November morning, the temperature has hit a cozy 17 degrees, and I am dreaming of someplace warmer in January or February, hoping this time we CAN follow the Monarchs south, that ill health or family commitment will not interfere this year. But now, the Blake quote and that beautiful Zen statement, and your entire post all help me realize that if we cannot go south this year, if we cannot shake loose the commitments we have to ourselves and those we love, that we can cherish the warmth where we are. And I’m still hoping you will one day publish your meditations.


    1. Ah, “cherishing the warmth of where we are…” That’s lovely, Beth, absolutely lovely. Regarding that book, I have not given up, and as my health continues to improve, publication seems a possibility more and more. Thanks so much, Beth!


  6. I have read a lot this year about the monarch migrations and am so glad to hear some good news. How wonderful to be able to see them, Karen – I am envious. I have always loved seeing butterflies, and in fact for a long time I collected objects, cards, jewellery etc with butterflies on. I read an excellent book last year by someone who went all over the UK ‘spotting’ every native butterfly as they emerged, but we don’t get Monarchs of course. Love the Blake quote too!


    1. I, too, was glad to know of some more positive news regarding the migration. As Adrian noted, climate change is also a key factor. It was quite a moment, Diana, one that I will not forget. How fortunate I was. Can’t remember where I found the Blake poem. It was new to me. Thanks, Diana.


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