(A female Monarch getting ready for her first flight)
Her wings flex, she turns her head from side to side, and I wait for it...
As I whisper a blessing and gently hold the last monarch on my outstretched hand, mixed emotions roll through me. First it is joy and wonder to experience the perfection of her so close up. My heart next breaks a little as she pushes off and takes flight. But watching as she flies for her very first time and knowing the amazing journey that lies ahead for her during the great migration, I am again filled with joy along with a humble satisfaction for my supporting role in the lifecycle of these beautiful creatures.
We often hear about the importance of being connected with nature. There are many practices, rituals, and activities that can aid us in being awake to the tremendous beauty and energy of our natural world. For me, raising butterflies is a cherished way that helps me to remain plugged in to nature, thus with myself. We are all nature, after all.
(Monarch eggs from my garden)
I stumbled upon this delightful, seasonal activity seven years ago when I planted a garden and first discovered caterpillars munching on the leafy tops of the carrot patch. After curiously observing and researching them, I discovered that they were the caterpillars of Black Swallowtail butterflies. I was so excited! After learning that only 1 out of every 10 caterpillars are estimated to live long enough to transform into butterflies, I decided to gather and shelter them through their growth cycle and release them when they "bloomed" with wings. It's truly special to witness, and I must admit that I cried the first time I watched one emerge from its chrysalis. Silly, I know! (See our previous blogs entitled, "If You Plant It They Will Come: A Garden for Pollinators", Part 1 and Part 2 for the whole story, photos and tips to attract butterflies and other pollinators to your garden. Find The Prairie Journal blog posts at PrairieStarBotanicals.com)
(A small Monarch caterpillar on Butterfly Weed leaf, one of their host plants)
While I still love to raise as many Black Swallowtail butterflies as I can each year, my main focus is Monarchs. I find all of them from my garden milkweed plants while they are still eggs. Special care is taken to ensure that they are protected and can grow into healthy butterflies, but that's not always easy.
Do you know, not all Monarchs migrate? Generally speaking for our area, the caterpillars that are born mid August or later are the fourth generation, the Super Monarchs, who will make the epic journey to Mexico. These Supers really are special! Their migration journey and long life span (up to 9 months) is just so incredible! (See the educational links below to learn more about their migration.)
(Dangling like a pretty jewel of jade and speckled gold, a Monarch chrysalis)
Monarch season is summer spilling over into autumn...when sunlight becomes softer and golden, the song of the cicadas intensifies, when trees turn on the color show, and the air thins with a crisp freshness. Just as the natural seasons bring change to our earth, so our own inner seasons also change. Autumn is a season of release, of letting go, and it is often bittersweet. But it is also a season of beauty and freedom and hope. So the next time you see a butterfly, one of any type, be reminded of releasing what needs released, of letting go of what must go, and feeling that beautiful freeness that comes from doing so.
To learn more about the Monarch Migration, I personally recommend the following links (one is a video):