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Sci Tech    H3'ed 6/20/08

Death of a Monarch

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Not all complete the journey home no matter how valiant the effort.

The monarch (Danaus plexippus) is a milkweed butterfly (subfamily Danainae), in the family Nymphalidae. It is perhaps the best known of all North American butterflies

Monarchs are especially noted for their lengthy annual migration. In North America they make massive southward migrations starting in August until the first frost. A northward migration takes place in the spring. Female Monarchs deposit eggs for the next generation during these migrations.By the end of October, the population of the Rocky Mountains migrates to the sanctuaries of the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve in the Mexican states of Michoacán and México. The western population overwinters in various sites in central coastal and southern California, United States, notably in Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz.

The length of these journeys exceeds the normal lifespan of most Monarchs, which is less than two months for butterflies born in early summer. The last generation of the summer enters into a non-reproductive phase known as diapause and may live seven months or more.Monarch butterflies are one of the few insects capable of making transatlantic crossings.

In Australia it is also known as the Wanderer Butterfly.*

End of the Journey

When the near weightlessness of a butterfly collides with a fast moving vehicle, the crash and demise is silent.

As the car ahead of me sped forward, I saw the miraculous burst of tawny orange flit into the air with every intention of making it across the road, onward, toward home.  After all, it had made it this far, across mountains and deserts and vast plains.  It’s feather lightness had survived ravages of wind and hail and predator.  If nothing more, these wings carried hope.

I witnessed the fleeting collision, the silent fall like an autumn leaf, the motionless wings in the center of the road.  In the blink of an eye, the journey was over.

The seemingly impossible migration of this delicate looking creature who from birth and since time immemorial has followed an ancient path, a migratory route borne of survival, came to an end on a narrow country road in Maine.  It had dodged innumerable obstacles in its path, but a fast moving vehicle in the middle of nowhere, between the sea and stands of pine, cut short its flight.

Since the beginning of time, man has looked skyward for answers.   We look up at the sun and marvel.  We smile at the moon and make promises we hope to keep.  We wish on shooting stars and blow dandelion spores into the heavens.  We watch in humbled awe the soaring eagle, a ribbon of a thousand migrating geese, a hummingbird hovering in mid-air, a lone raven sweeping across an endless stretch of sky.  And so wish we could ride alongside.

We have longed and dreamed of wings.  We have the need and longing to know how it feels to fly – to feel weightless – to feel air and clouds beneath us.  To let go of the heaviness of burden and pain.  Wings and sky, horizon and infinity represent our dreams and our secrets, and our hope. And perhaps that is why the death of any creature with wings is particularly the hardest to fathom.  We want to believe that life forms that take flight are immune to hurt and destruction.  We need to believe that flight can save from harm.  That by the sheer lifting of weight and spirit into the air, we can transport ourselves to any place, near or far, in the safe arms of others, free from harm.  Home.

Butterflies, birds and bees don’t take advantage of time.  They seem to know that time and love and fate are fleeting and fickle and not ours to keep.  We cannot hold onto the intangible. 

We misunderstand time.  We abuse the moment.  We let it slip by without notice.  Those that live for a mere eight weeks know the value of the moment.  Theirs is not time to waste.  Every second is golden.

Timing is Everything.  And it is Nothing at all.  It is ours, with or without wings, to choose which path to take; which migratory route home.

Some never find their way.

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Jan Baumgartner is the author of the memoir, Moonlight in the Desert of Left Behind. She was born near San Francisco, California, and for years lived on the coast of Maine. She is a writer and creative content book editor. She's worked as a grant (more...)

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