Saving the Monarchs

April 3, 2011
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“But Carol,” I pined to my all too patient neighbor, “I don’t want da butterfwies to die!” I stuck out my bottom lip and scrunched up my eyebrows. This look worked magic on adults, making them defenseless against my youthful innocence. Sara, my partner in crime, stood by my side with an equally manipulative expression smeared across her sun kissed face.

Carol looked up through her fuchsia framed reading glasses. “Well girls, we can’t have that, now can we?” Although shaky with age, her words seemed to spring off her tongue like grasshoppers escaping a child’s grip. Thrusting her knitting needles onto the velvet ottoman, she leapt to her feet as fast as a woman of her advanced age could. She knew we meant business and this matter was time sensitive. At that very moment, a man clothed in Carhartt tan was sitting on top of a John Deere tractor in the middle of her field, motor running. Now this wasn’t just an average field. No, it was overflowing with monarch caterpillars. As the three of us approached the young man, he set down his lit cigarette and cut the engine. “Girls, go ahead and tell this gentleman our situation,” Carol said in a voice, loud enough for the man to hear.

He peered down at us, and smiled. “Um, well there are caterpiwars livin’ in da field, and--” His smile wasn’t sincere. His bushy eyebrows stood tall, almost in a sympathetic manner. He had laugh lines and his lips were pressed together, holding back laughter. I knew that look. It was the look that adults gave children when they weren’t taking them seriously. I softened my voice, perhaps he was amused by the childish pitch. “--um, and so if you chop down da plants den you will hurt da bugs, and den there won’t be any butterfwies.” He seemed confused, “oh, the butterfwies come from da caterpiwars. dey make cocoons,” I explained, my eyes shifting from his gaze to the vast, yellow green field, “If you chop down da caterpiwars, den dey can’t become butterfwies” I restated, trying to elaborate so he could understand. Carol asked the man to please hold off on mowing the west end of the field where the milkweed grew in order to preserve the monarchs, as she did every year from then on.

Countless hours were spent blazing paths through the milkweed jungle, looking for caterpillars. My bare, callused feet danced through the field as if I were wearing ballerina slippers. The smells of summer—freshly cut grass, rain on pavement, fresh soil—lingered close, until inevitably a warm breeze would roll in, gusting it away for only a moment. Several times in my search I stumbled upon a spot in the field where a deer had lay down; broken stocks of grass would be smoothed flat against the earth. Small critters scattered as I plunged on, turning each leaf over, checking every petal. Although quite frequent, it was always a surprise to find a tiny caterpillar clinging tightly to the bottom of a milkweed leaf. Always prepared with a Tupperware container in hand, I collected as many as I could find. On a good year, I would capture up to thirty monarchs, saving them from the unforgiving blades of the tractor.

One year while searching the field, I saw no sign of white, yellow and black stripes amongst the green milkweed. “Sara,” I wailed, “did you find any?” I couldn’t see her through the thick weeds, but the sound rustling plants and snapping stalks made it clear that she was searching just as meticulously as I was.

“No! This is crazy; we aren’t too early are we? I swear…” her voice trailed off. “WAIT A SECOND!” She went silent. Had they disappeared? Did the birds eat them? Where could they be?
“Not too early Caroline, we’re late! They’ve already turned into chrysalises!” she exclaimed, relieved.

At that moment, I saw the sun glimmer off a gold fringe, embroidered on a chrysalis. Now that I knew what I was looking for, nature’s disguises had little effect, and we safely collected as many as we could find. It was a close call. I’m just happy we had not given up.

For about a month each year , our sunroom would become a bug observatory where caterpillars made chrysalises, and from there, became butterflies. Individually, my family would bring each new butterfly back into the field, which like the caterpillars had started a new life. As each unfolded their wings, we released them one by one and watched them float and flutter in the crisp autumn air just above Carols field, the location of my favorite childhood tradition; saving the monarchs.

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junonia said...
Feb. 21, 2015 at 6:21 pm
You can help monarchs by planting milkweed in your yard or garden.
waterbendercarorainThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Dec. 16, 2013 at 10:56 am
love this so inspiring
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