Fall Rituals MAG

November 15, 2008
By Celia Skaggs, Dallas, TX

One by one they flutter to the ground silently. The pair of wings stops beating. The heart stops soon after. The ground is blanketed with a silky sheet of orange and black. I watch in horror, fearful that I am witnessing an extinction. To my surprise, many of the monarch butterflies remain in flight, gliding with ­determination toward an unknown destination.

I sit on a rock next to my mother, whose blue clothes sharply contrast the wall of ­brilliant orange. “Do they come through here every year?” I ask.

“Yes, they go south for the winter and then turn right around when they get there.”

“Get where?”

“I don't know, but they seem to know where they're going.”

I glance up at the cloud of butterflies, still struggling through the maze of trees. They are so tightly packed that I wonder if they run into each other. Maybe that's why some die. I stand and walk toward them, my brother ­following closely behind. As I go deep into the throng, the butterflies begin to part. I feel as if I'm the conductor of an immense, hushed orchestra, the only instruments being the thousands of wings gently beating.

I was in third grade when I first experienced the butterflies' autumnal journey. I went back every year, making this pilgrimage to that same creek bed. But ­middle school brought new fall traditions: ­Halloween parties, Mexican lunches, and trips to my grandmother's house for Thanksgiving. Eventually the monarch migration was overshadowed by my hectic social life.

I zip up my jacket with numb fingers, stuff my hands into my pockets, and sit on a small bench. I pull out the bait and begin ripping it into bite-sized pieces. I launch a hunk of bread out onto the icy lake. With a cacophony of squawks, the writhing mass of black and white geese devour it and search frantically for more. I tear piece after piece and throw it toward the ­hungry mob. Patience is clearly not one of their virtues. Each goose streaks madly toward the food as if it were their only nourishment, then glides away defeated when another triumphs.

When I run out of bread, I try to blend in with the ­­forest, hoping that the geese won't come looking for more, but they are distracted as a new wave of their kind touches down on the lake. They who have traveled so far deserve a warm welcome. I regret that I don't have more bread, but I can always return tomorrow or the next day, or next year. They can wait.

And I can wait too. But this year we aren't going to my grandmother's for Thanksgiving. So I won't see the geese arrive, and I've already missed the butterfly migration. And even though I haven't witnessed either this year, I know that the ­autumnal migrants will continue their ritual. My absence is unnoticed, my bread crumbs probably forgotten.

There is truth in migration. Even though the individuals change, the path remains the same. Migration is ordinary, yet completely extraordinary. Each year butterflies and geese take to the skies, steadily creeping toward their destination, and each year I wait patiently for them to pass.

A few days ago I was doing my homework when I glanced outside and a tiny flash of orange caught my eye. I turned my head again, this time catching my own reflection in the window. A smile crept across my face as I reclined in my chair and immersed myself in work once more.

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