#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 Butterfly’s Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe

Stop what you are doing and go pick up this book. The Butterfly’s Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe was just the book I needed to get out of my reading slump and I have been recommending it to everyone I know.  I have a personal connection to the story of the monarch butterfly’s migration, but this is a story that many people will identify with.

Luz Avila’s mother abandoned her as a child and she was raised by her Abuela.  Now that she is in her twenties, Luz takes care of her grandmother.  She works a factory job, dreaming of the day she will be able to go back to school.  But the job pays the bills and lets her grandmother live life relatively worry-free.  But when Abuela suddenly announces that she wants to take Luz home, to visit their family in Mexico, it breaks Luz’s heart to have to say no.  She promises that they will go one day, after they save the money and pay off a few more bills.  Abuela dies before plans can be made, and Luz is plagued with regret.  Then she wakes up a few days after the funeral and sees an out-of-season monarch butterfly in the garden that her abuela so loved.  It’s a sign, and Luz takes it to heart.  For the first time in her life, she throws caution to the wind and lives life spontaneously.  In a few short days she is in an old, beat-up VW bug on her way from Milwaukee to Mexico.  She carries Abuela’s ashes with her, planning to scatter them in the monarch sanctuaries near her family’s ancestral home in Angangueo, Mexico.

This is a quest story, a journey, both spiritually and physically.  Along the way Luz meets women who leave an imprint on her life and her heart, changing the way she looks at the world.  Each woman alters the flight path a little more, but they all enrich Luz’s life.  And when her mother reappears in her life, Luz must decide which way to fly.

As a monarchaholic, I know this book would affect me deeply.  But I also believe the casual reader will find themselves immersed in the tale of the monarch butterfly.  And the descriptions!  Oh, the language in this book!  I’ve been to Angangueo, to the sanctuaries, and I’ve visited Alternare in Michoacan.  Reading The Butterfly’s Daughter transported me back to the dusty dirt roads high in the Transvolcanic Mountains.  I could smell the fresh blue corn tortillas and hear the sound the butterfly wings beating in the blue sky.  The language of the Purepuchuan people rings in my ears even now.  (Read about my time in Michoacan).  Monroe traveled to the sanctuaries with Monarchs Across Georgia, a group very similar to my beloved Monarch Teacher Network, and the authenticity of her book speaks volumes about that trip.  I could not put the book down.

Highly, highly recommended.  Published for adults, but with definitely crossover YA appeal.

*copy purchased by me  

 

 

Want to visit the sanctuaries?  Read my post about an amazing professional development opportunity for teachers!

Monarch Butterflies, Milkweed, and Migration….

I just finished watching the Insect episode of LIFE on Discovery.  If you haven’t been watching this series, you are seriously missing out.  It is absolutely incredible.

The footage of the monarch migration was stunning and incredible.  Definitely made me “homesick” for Michoacan.  I visited the oyamel forests in Michoacan, Mexico in February 2008.  It was a life-chanigng experience.  The experience was spiritual and standing amongst millions of fluttering wings, the only sound their quiet flapping, was the closest I have ever felt to God.  It’s an experience I wish everyone could live.

Now, the monarchs are in trouble.  The combination of the floods in the reserves this winter and the habitat destruction in the US are forcing the monarchs to disappear.  Due to the deaths from the severe weather in the reserves, scientists think it will take at least 2 years (maybe more) for the population to return to the levels of earlier this year.  Unfortunately, this year’s population was already obscenely low and lower than the last few years.  So we need to do what we can to help.  Planting milkweed is huge and many organizations, like Monarch Watch, are starting campaigns to inform people of the importance of planting milkweed.

There have been numerous news reports on the monarch crisis.  Check out the GMA and CBS News videos.  Tonight’s episode of LIFE seems to have gotten the attention of a lot of people, too.  The Facebook messages and Twitter responses I got from friends and family after the episode aired were awesome.  I had no less than 10 people send me messages asking me things like, “You’ve been there, right?  It looked incredible!  I’d love to go someday”.  How awesome is that?  Airing the footage of the reserves in HD seems to have made a huge difference.  The footage itself was short but stunning.  Hopefully there are many more people out there who thought the same thing and will look into visiting and along the way will learn about planting milkweed, helping the migration, etc.  :)  Even if they never get to Mexico, the monarchs will be in a better position.  And that is something we all benefit from.

Monarch Enrichment Class

I spent the last few days working on the curriculum for my enrichment class.  This year each teacher will teach a 30 minute enrichment period on a topic they are passionate about.  I love the idea and am thrilled to delve deeper into the monarchs with my classes!  I will teach the class 4 times, to a different class each marking period.

I decided to focus a lot on the area of Mexico where the Monarchs migrate.  That means looking at the Aztecs and Mayans, modern-day Michoacan, and the monarch’s effects on the culture.  I’ve come up with a rough outline of the class, seen below.

Adios Oscar! A Butterfly Fable by Peter Elwell

Anytime I see a new monarch butterfly book I get excited, so when I received a review copy of Adios, Oscar!: A Butterfly Fable from Scholastic, I was very happy. Even better? This isn’t your typical monarch migration story. It’s a new twist on the topic and it is great!

Oscar is a caterpillar who lives on a plant near a window. One day a monarch butterfly named Bob happens upon his plant. Bob is in an awful rush and tells Oscar to look him up when he gets to Mexico someday. Well, Oscar is just enamored with Bob, his gorgeous orange-and-black wings, and this talk of Mexico. When a bookworm named Edna decides to help Oscar learn about Mexico in preparation for his journey, he is ecstatic. Soon it is time for him to go into his pupa phase before emerging as a butterfly.

Or so he thinks.

Oscar is heartbroken when he emerges from his cocoon and discovers he has short grey wings instead of the gorgeous orange-and-black ones he anticipated. And instead of the urge to fly to Mexico, he has the urge to eat sweaters! And fly around a light! Oscar’s friends all mock him for the time he spent learning Spanish and Mexican culture, and he is heartbroken. But that all changes when he finds a note Edna left behind for him.

I loved this fable about a moth who believes he can do anything, even fly 2000 miles to Mexico. And Elwell sprinkles Spanish phrases throughout the book. He also includes an afterword with some information on monarchs and moths and the differences between the two. The illustrations are also adorable, in a great cartoon style. I can’t wait to share this with my class and the Monarch Teacher Network!

Tonight PBS will be airing a documentary on NOVA that follows the monarch butterflies to their overwintering grounds in Mexico. Last February I was extremely privileged to visit the sanctuaries in Michoacan and it was a life-changing experience. The NOVA website has a wonderful page dedicated to The Incredible Journey of the Monarch Butterfly. It will air at 8pm tonight. I highly recommend taking a look at it!

Houdini: The Amazing Caterpillar by Janet Pedersen

I am the crazy butterfly lady, no doubt about it. If a book so much as even mentions monarch butterflies I must have it for my classroom collection. Imagine my excitement when I received a review copy of Houdini the Amazing Caterpillar from Clarion Books this week!

Houdini is a monarch caterpillar who lives in a classroom. He is always the center of attention due to his amazing tricks, like eating milkweed leaves really fast and shedding his skin. The kids love him! But one day, they start paying attention to other animals in the classroom, like their pet turtle. Houdini is not thrilled with this new development (especially since he thinks the turtle is B-O-R-I-N-G). He tries to perform new, more amazing tricks but nothing holds their attention.

Until the big day.

The day that Houdini decides to pull out all the stops and shed his skin on last fabulous time. This time? He becomes a chrysalis! The students are in awe after viewing this last transformation and Houdini is one more the center of attention. He goes two weeks without moving, eating, or doing any other tricks! Finally, after 10-12 days he opens his eyes and emerges from the chrysalis. This amazing feat stuns the children, who are thrilled with their friend, Houdini! Now that he is a beautiful monarch butterfly, they hold a butterfly release and let him go.

This is a very cute book and one that rings very true for me. We just did our last monarch release a week ago and even my 6th graders are excited about the metamorphosis of the monarch butterfly. The book is very accurate and includes all the stages of the life cycle. The illustrations, watercolors done my Janet Pedersen, are gorgeous. The only small issue I have is that Houdini is more white/yellow striped than black/white/yellow striped. However, this is my only quibble with the book.

Janet Pedersen was inspired to write Houdini the Amazing Caterpillar after attending her son’s kindergarten butterfly release. How cool is that?! I hope that kindergarten teacher is as excited as I am! Pedersen also includes a page of monarch facts in the back, which makes me happy.
This is a great book for any classroom that raises monarchs. It is also great for teachers and parents who don’t have monarchs of their own but want to share these magical creatures with their children. I highly recommend it!

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