In the cold of this last day of November, I remember a not-too-long-ago morning when I was among the monarch butterflies at St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf of Mexico.
It seems the initial count of monarch butterflies may be up this year, a first in a long time. It is a mystery, this monarch migration, and I suspect the element of mystery works in the monarchs’ favor.
On their way to Mexico to overwinter, the monarchs make a multi-generational trek of 3,000 miles each spring and fall. It is in the sunny lands they ensure their survival.
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 the governmental 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 that day—and sitting among 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.
KM Huber is a writer who learned Zen from a beagle. She believes the moment is all we ever have, and it is enough. In her early life as a hippie, she practiced poetry, and although her middle years were a bit of a muddle, she remains an overtly optimistic sexagenerian, writing prose. She blogs at kmhubersblog.com, may be followed on Twitter @KM_Huber or contacted by email at writetotheranch[at]gmail[dot]com.