#plantmilkweed Save the Monarch!

Six years ago this February, I stood atop a mountain in Michoacan, Mexico and listened to the deafening sound of butterfly wings flapping.  It sounds crazy, but standing amongst millions of black-and-orange butterflies you can actually hear the wings as they beat together.  The monarch rise from oyamel trees en masse as the sun hits the branches, taking off for nectar and water.  You step around thousands of butterflies puddling on the forest floor and still more float through the air above you.

As I stood there, surrounded by millions of monarch butterflies, I couldn’t help but think that Shakespeare was talking about the monarch overwintering grounds when he said, “this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire”.

The forest canopy is alight with golden fire in Michoacan.

Today, my heart is breaking because the Mexican government and the World Wildlife Fund  announced that “the migrating population has become so small— perhaps 35 million, experts guess — that the prospects of its rebounding to levels seen even five years ago are diminishing.”

We can’t lose this:

In 2005 I completed my student teaching with an inspiring cooperating teacher who was a member of the Monarch Teacher Network.  During those first months of school I helped her and the third grade class raise monarchs, release them, and plant milkweed.  We studied monarchs in language arts, geography, social studies, math, and science.  Parents planted milkweed from seeds their children found.  Students raised caterpillars they found in their own backyards.  We stopped class to watch the “pupa dance” as a caterpillar transformed into a chrysalis.  We stopped again when the butterfly, wet and crumpled, emerged from it’s chrysalis days later.  I had never been so inspired and I immediately signed up for the summer workshop that my cooperating teacher had taken.  That summer, I spent 3 days learning about monarch butterflies at a Monarch Teacher Network workshop and I’ve never looked back.

I’ve raised monarch butterflies in the classroom with third graders, sixth graders, and high schoolers.  I’ve spoken about monarchs at schools and libraries.  I stop on the side of the road to check milkweed and I hand out seeds to people I meet.  My father and sister raise monarchs each summer, using the information I gained at the workshop.  And each summer since then I have been a volunteer staff member at at least one Monarch Teacher Network workshop.

But in 2008 I was overcome with gratitude when I received a fellowship to Mexico, where I was given the chance to visit the overwintering grounds (You can read about it here).  It was a life-changing experience and one I hope to repeat someday.

Now I don’t know if that will happen.  Because the monarch population and migration has been depleted.  At an all-time low, the population may be beyond the point of no return.  Yes, weather plays a role in the cycle of the migration, but humans have a much bigger toll.  Development has stopped the spread of milkweed, the only plant monarch caterpillars can feed on.  GMOs have taken over land that milkweed naturally spread to.  We aren’t paying attention and now we may lose the migration, one of the greatest migrations on earth, within a few years.

How can you help?

  • Plant milkweed!  Order some from the suppliers recommended by Monarch Watch, a fabulous organization.
  • Stop taking such good care of your lawn.  Seriously.  It’s terrible for biodiversity.   (See: John Green: Your Yard is Evil)
  • Raise monarch butterflies in your classroom. Because ““In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.” ― Baba Dioum
  • Bring the Monarch Teacher Network to your area!  If you want to bring the workshop to your school, library, or nature center you can email bhayes@eirc.org or call 856.582.7000 x110. They go everywhere!  Give them a call now, as they are scheduling workshops for this summer.
  • Spread the word!  We need this to go viral.  We must protect the migration!

 

 

The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante

Anyone who knows me can vouch for my extreme (okay, maybe overboard) love for everything butterfly related. Naturally, Cecilia Galante’s The Patron Saint of Butterflies immediately caught my eye.  Now, what most people don’t know is that I am fascinated by religious fanaticism, cults, and communes.  When Galante’s book surfaced near the top of my large to-be-read pile, it immediately caught my eye.  Once I began reading it, I couldn’t stop.

Agnes and Honey have been best friends their entire lives. Lately though, they seem to be growing apart.  The girls have been raised on a religious commune known as Mount Blessing.  The people of Mount Blessing are very religious and allow Emmanuel, their leader, to control all aspects of their life.  Agnes loves being a Believer. She firmly believes that the traditions and strict rules at the Mount Blessing  are there to make her a better person- a perfect person. But Honey hates Mount Blessing and  Emmanuel.  She sees the commune in a more realistic light and she knows that much of what goes on there is wrong.  She is miserable, and this is causing a rift between her and Agnes. The only bright spot is the butterfly garden she’s helping to build, and the journal of butterflies that she keeps.

When Agnes’s grandmother makes an unexpected visit to the commune, she uncovers the child abuse that is going on and that the Believers are covering up.  Honey, who has no parents in the commune,  has always viewed Agnes’ family as her own.  She opens up to Nana Pete and admits that Emmanuel has beaten her.  Nana Pete is horrified and plans to help Honey.  Then, Agnes’s little brother is seriously injured and Emmanuel refuses to send him to a hospital.  Agnes’ grandmother and Honey plot to take all three children and escape the commune. Their journey begins an exploration of faith, friendship, religion and family for the two girls, as Agnes clings to her familiar faith while Honey desperately wants a new future.

I couldn’t put this book down.  It is very timely, as I could see some similarities between Honey and Agnes’ exposure to the outside world and the fate suffered by the FLDS children in El Dorado, Texas recently.  Galante tells the book in two voices, with the chapters alternating between Honey and Agnes.  This allows the reader to see two sides of the story while still realizing that both girls have their own prejudices about their background and their home.

Cecilia Galante has an author’s note at the back of the book, in which she shares her own experience growing up in a religious commune in New York state.  While her experiences influenced her writing, she makes it clear this is not a biographical story.  However, her own experiences clearly shape the book and the story is the better for it.  I loved this book and recommend it for anyone interested in faith, religions, growing up, and the current events taking place with the polygamists in Texas.  A great book for book clubs!  I can also see this being used in the classroom because it would spark some great discussions!

Cape May Migration


photo taken by me

This morning I rose bright and early for the two and a quarter hour drive to Cape May. I arrived right on time and met up with the other teachers from the Monarch Teacher Network. It was great seeing everyone! After catching up for a bit, I set out on the trail. (If anyone is looking for a great day trip, I highly recommend Cape May State Park!). I spent about an hour walking the trails out to the beach. It was relaxing and gorgeous. I saw 102 monarchs! The weather was warm and sunny, which meant the monarchs were nectaring as opposed to migrating. The birds were also feeding and I did not get to see any hawk clouds, but I saw a ton of migratory birds by themselves!

On the trails, I saw monarchs everywhere! They flew all around me, nectaring and slowly meandering south. I also saw swans, a yellow warbler, a great egret, a crane, sharpies, peregrine falcons, black vultures, and many other butterflies. Needless to say, my camera was constantly out! I ended up with some great shots, which I was very happy about

After I finished meandering along the trail, walking on the beach a bit, and then hanging out at the hawk pavilion, I headed out. First, I said goodbye to the MTN teachers still hanging around and had a great conversation with one of the teachers I took the workshop with 2 years ago. Hope is doing amazing work with her pre-schoolers and it was great to meet up with her again. Hopefully, we will see each other in Mexico later this winter!

After leaving the park, I decided to swing by a few other known monarch hangouts in Cape May Point. It turns out that almost everyone who lives in Cape May Point has some type of butterfly garden, due to the fact that it is the home to such a large migration flyway. I did get a chance to stop at the visitor center and gift shop, and I am now the proud owner of a
Jude Rose handmade chrysalis necklace
. I have been dying for one, but they are only sold at the Cape May Bird Observatory gift shop. I also picked up a butterly field guide, caterpillar field guide, and a monarch finger puppet.

Next, I headed to Pavilion Gardens. Pavilion Gardens is actually a neighborhood traffic circle that has been planted as a butterfly garden. It is such a great use of suburban space! I took my camera and hung out by a fragrant lilac bush for about 25 minutes, snapping pictures. I saw 20-25 monarchs over that time! I even caught two monarchs mating!!!!! I got some great pictures of that process, which I am so happy about. I had never witnessed that before in the wild.

All in all, it was a great day. I couldn’t help thinking what a great class trip this would have been. I wish I could take my students out there, with their writer’s notebooks. just to observe and write. I was itching to write in my notebook, but had forgotten it in the car! It certainly is a spot that cries out to writers. Between the plants, animals, and just plain quiet, I can’t imagine the writing that will come from the park. Instead, I will have to settle for sharing my pictures and my entry with my students, and letting that inspire them!

monarch nectaring
photo taken by me

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