Monday, September 24, 2018
Morning Thanks--our Monarchs
It's a girl.
And, no, she's not being manhandled. She can take it, the naturalist says. Not to worry. For this little demonstration, she plucked one from a branch, pinched it delicately to open its wings and to reveal that this little beauty is lady. Men have spots down there on the bottom of the wings, and women have stronger lines, so this one's a girl.
Who knew? Not me.
They're unlikely rulers, these monarchs, so feathery fragile that they appear to be wholly unable to govern; but gorgeous they are, maybe like the royal family. If they qualify for their name at all, they do so only because they're the fairest of nature's fair, at least out back of our place. The truth is, they flit drunkenly from flower to flower, alight when there's bounty, then feast on whatever nectar they locate, nature's most delicate royalty.
For years, my father-in-law walked his bean fields, corn knife in hand, to knock down the blasted, persistent milkweed. He knew where it sprouted amidst those soy beans, because he knew very well he never got 'em all. They'd come back like a plague whenever and wherever you knocked 'em down.
Once upon a time, those surgical swipes we took when walking beans was the only way to stop them. "They've got lateral roots," I remember him telling me when I came along, similarly armed. "If you knock 'em down here, they'll only come back there."
Made the job feel like an endlessly frustrating county fair midway game until herbicides came along. Milkweed started getting, well, rare, so rare that crowds of these flighty little beauties seemed to thin, milkweed being their all-time favorite feast. It depends, I suppose, on how you measure your losses, but fewer monarchs seemed to leave the world a whole lot less beautiful, at least to me.
It may well have been an off day, but a half-dozen years ago or so, I took my grandson to Oak Grove Park to tag monarchs. We got a wonderful lesson in butterfly lives, then took to the woods in search of these beauties, but found none. Not one. It was a beautiful day, the naturalist did a great job, but we saw no monarchs. None.
That didn't mean there weren't any. It's just that right then, they were probably all at a rock concert or a ball game. Maybe a swarm had stumbled on a warehouse of nectar. I don't know what happened, but that day they weren't to be found.
Saturday morning, a half-dozen years later, same place, same time of year, they were all over. All's right with the world.
Even so, they're packing right now, I guess, because some of them--the ones mysteriously chosen to be outfitted with the strength of wing a 3000-mile trip requires--will soon catch wind currents to southwestern Mexico. If any specimen of Noah's Ark collection seem ill-fitted for such a trek, these darlings, with their paper-thin wings, do so seem. What they do, year after year, is truly epic.
This young lady won't make it back to Oak Grove Park, but her descendants just might, and her people will.
And that's just wonderful because out here on the prairie, as slender and slight as royalty could ever be, these fragile miracles, in all their tangerine glory, beauty to behold, still earn their name--they're monarchs.
And this morning, they're blessedly deserving of my morning thanks.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:17 AM