There was a wire service news story in the paper a couple of weeks ago about monarch butterflies.
It seems that in late October, some of the eastern monarchs, which are supposed to migrate south to Mexico each fall, were still hanging out in Canada’s Point Pelee National Park on a northern flank of Lake Erie. They should have been “on the road,” so to speak, at least six weeks earlier.
This is scary stuff for the lepidopterists who study butterflies and are already concerned about the effects of climate change on the insects.
Monarchs, they know, don’t do well when the temperature drops below 50 degrees — the muscles that make them flutter apparently stiffen in the cold.
Some consider this another reason to declare the big orange and black butterflies that are the undisputed sovereigns of the butterfly world an endangered species. Some will go further, taking this new glitch in the ecosystem as a warning that the apocalypse draws closer. The optimists say, let’s wait and see what happens next year before we panic.
I am not versed in lepidoptery or entomology. But I do know a little something about monarchs — western monarchs, that is — the ones who live west of the Rocky Mountains in both the U.S. and Canada.
Their southbound migration route hugs the Pacific Coast and can go all the way to Mexico every winter. They have a lot of choices, in California’s temperate coastal climes, as to where to spend their winters.
Bodega Bay is one of them.
As I read this story, in my cluttered mind I switched from The Firestorm Channel and went directly to Thanksgivings Past, remembering all the monarch butterflies in our family’s Thanksgivings.
For a lot of Novembers, when our children were young — and so, in fact, were we — the Monarchs were a distinct part of our family Thanksgivings.
Those were the years we had a weekend home at Bodega Bay. At the end of our lane north of the town, there was (is still) a grove of trees — mostly cypress with clumps of towering eucalyptus — that bordered the dunes stretching toward Salmon Creek.
The grove had been the family home site of my husband’s maternal great-grandfather, Andrew Johnson, in the 1800s. Among the other inherited wonders were the clumps of naked lady flowers around a sunken cornerstone where the Johnson house once stood. But the butterfly trees were the Thanksgiving attraction.
Every year they showed up, a few at a time, through early November. And by Thanksgiving, when the extended family gathered for the feast, the butterflies’ extended families were all set for a comfortable, temperate coastal winter.
There were literally thousands of them. They folded their wings when there was no sun and looked for all the world like just leaves — dried, brown leaves. But let a sunbeam in, and they opened to their full glory, left their limbs and flew in clouds of black and orange, not going anywhere, just flying around. They had no plans to leave until March.
They were without fear.
We had to walk gently and carefully through them. They fluttered around us. They landed on our shoulders, our shoes, our hats, our hair, our nose if we stood stock still. Our children considered them magical, and we adults did not disagree.