October 4, 2006 @ 2:53 am | Filed under: Butterflies, Nature Study
It’s a good thing I don’t have much time to write today, because I would no doubt get all weepy on you. Today is loading day. The truck will be here in a few hours. But I had to tell you. It wasn’t long after we moved here that I discovered Jane’s undying passion for butterflies. The two of us conspired to create a butterfly garden on our little slope at the edge of the yard. We planted butterfly bushes, asters, bee balm, coneflowers, turtlehead, fennel, cardinal flower, and a whole bunch of other plants, including—and most important— milkweed.
Milkweed is the only host plant for monarch butterflies, the only plant monarch caterpillars will eat. A monarch butterfly might stop to sip at your flowers but unless you have milkweed, she’ll never lay her eggs in your yard. And since monarchs migrate to and from Mexico each year, they need lots of milkweed along the route for each successive generation of travelers. But as more and more housing developments (like ours) are built, there is less milkweed growing wild in meadows. And hardly anyone plants milkweed on purpose.
But we did. We ordered it from ButterflyBushes.com and planted it all around the yard, and we waited. And waited. And waited.
For four summers now, we have watched for monarchs. Jane has inspected our milkweed for caterpillar eggs or big fat green caterpillars, but we never found any. Now and then we’d see a monarch (or was it a viceroy?) flutter past, but there was no indication that our little garden was serving as a stopping point on the great Journey North. Or South, for that matter.
Until—oh, it was breathtaking. A few days ago I walked out onto back deck and looked down the hill at my little trees grown so tall, and the street beyond, and the meadow beyond that, and beyond the meadow, the Blue Ridge: the gorgeous vista that sold me on this house. And just in the nick of time before the tears welled up, I saw something. Around the enormous clump of asters, a fluttering, a flash of orange. Many flashes.
I walked down for a closer look. Oh! How can I tell you how my heart leapt at the sight! Dozens of monarchs, more than I could count, lighting on the asters beside the bees.
There must have been eggs on this year’s milkweed, there must have been caterpillars, but we were packing and we missed them. But we saw our monarchs, a whole flock of them—I can’t say "a rabble," which is the proper collective noun; I prefer the Deputy Headmistress’s coinage: a fluttering of butterflies. And oh that’s what it was. The purple flowers, the orange wings, the green jungle of neglected but dearly loved garden: my heart fills up all over again to write it.
Of course I called the girls, and of course Jane (and everyone else) was over the moon with excitement. We tried to get pictures but I never got more than five or six in the shot at once
and later that day a storm blew in, and afterward the great fluttering was gone. Perhaps they have journeyed on south.
But all the rest of this week we’ve seen monarchs, not in a flock (a fluttering, a rustle, a blessing!) but singly, flashing through the air past us, and we’ve known—how deeply gratifying to know this—that we did it, we brought the monarchs to our neighborhood, and they will be here after we are gone.
Which is to say, tomorrow.
Everything to Learn
Names and Knowing
Milkweed and Friends
Then Again, Maybe Ignorance Was Bliss