Our Backyard Gave Us a Going-Away Present

October 4, 2006 @ 2:53 am | Filed under: ,

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.

They came.

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.


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19 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Anne V. says:

    What a beautiful story–and goodbye present from the natural world you all love so much.
    It is funny that I was thinking of you all while outside yesterday.I was trying to remember to offer you some milkweed pods–we have a whole field of them right now–for your new place, let me know! Kind of a housewarming present 🙂
    Prayers for your journey!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Just plain wonderful. You made me cry. Amazing photos.

  3. Kay says:

    A beauty message from the butterflies as they travel and send you on your way. The picture in your memories is greater that any you could have taken. What a calming message for a safe journey.

    My kids have been looking for large group of Monarchs since Sept. as they migrate to Mexico.
    If I would have only know of your watch for butterflies/eggs this summer we could have sent you some. Although we are currently waiting approval of permits to sent across state borders. There are other sourceses too. We have raised monarchs for the past 6 years with this year producing over 500 butterflies. Most we set free but other we sent to butterfly houses.
    COuld not sent them to CA however — east coast butterflies must remain on the east coast to migrate to Mexico.

    So now you will get to meet the West coast Monarchs that migrate to the beaches.

  4. Karen E. says:

    How beautiful … the butterflies, and the story.

  5. Alice says:

    What an incredibly significant farewell from your yard and the butterflies. How you managed to snap such gorgeous pictures of the butterflies is beyond me!

    And how is it that you are still able to give us such beauty right in the midst of your move?! You are too much!

  6. Mama Squirrel says:

    Thinking of you all and praying for a safe trip.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Remember, driving while crying is hard to do. So is navigating through bloglines while crying about beautiful blog posts. Be a Safety Mom! Quit writing beautiful stuff!

  8. Becky says:

    What a wonderful memory to take away with you, especially for the kids 🙂

    Safe travels, Lissa!

  9. beth says:

    Once again, your way with words has made me cry. I am so glad for you and your children that this year, of all years, the butterflies came. Best wishes on your westward journey.

  10. Jennifer says:

    A great farewell present for Jane! Marianna and I learned this year that our FL Monarchs may migrate to Cuba, venturing where no US Citizen may go…

  11. sherry says:

    Oh! That made me cry! How beautiful!

    Blessings on your move,


  12. Mary Beth P says:

    What a beautiful story! You had me misting up! I pray you have a safe journey! The other day I had a dream that we still lived in Queens. Jane & I went to C-Town, to get a whole bunch of chicken- I cooked it for you to eat on your journey! I’m sure that’s just what YOU wanted to munch across country- lots of skinless, boneless chicken breast (I’m on weight watchers, that’s mostly what I eat these days). Anyway, hope this gives you a chuckle.
    Mary Beth

  13. The LLama Butchers says:

    Caterpillar Ranch Update

    Oh, how we are going to miss the Bonny Glen. The Old One decided to show Lissa and the crew how much they’ve meant to all us. Of course, she’s horning in on Kelly’s turf with the Monarch Butterfly blogging….

  14. Jen L. says:

    what a beautiful gift from God your butterflies are to you are and what a beautiful gift your writing is to us! (said with teary eyes)

  15. Alice Gunther says:

    This post is such a favorite!!!