Me, monarch butterflies

October 31, the orange and black.

One day last week, two monarch butterflies flew through our yard and so we knew the monarchs had arrived.  My friend Joan is visiting us just now, all the way from Cardiff, and we migrated over to Natural Bridges State Park today to stand on the viewing stage, speaking with our quiet, butterfly voices, and watching the air fluttering with wings.  We made two trips, one in the morning when many of the butterflies were still dangling like grapes from the branches of trees and one, on the recommendation of the Natural Bridges docent, in the afternoon when she promised that the temperature would be up and the monarchs aloft.  It was actually colder in the afternoon and no more wing-filled than the morning, but still well worth the trip, to see all the butterflies in the air wherever there was sunshine and clustered in their hanging cities in the shade.

It seemed like a scene of abundance, more than last year or the year before, but still, I’m assured, many less than the old days, back before we broke the climate.  The peak should come around Thanksgiving.

This annual round trip from the Rockies takes four generations, with the lifespan very unevenly distributed throughout.  The butterflies that overwinter in Santa Cruz live for seven to eight months, much of that in a state of developmental dormancy known as diapause.  The next generation, hatched on the way back to the mountains, lasts less than two months, and spends their whole lives journeying to a place they won’t live to see.  Or so I understand from the park docent.  Nature is unkind and unfair.  I love her to pieces, but still it must be said.

The docent showed us a butterfly she’d picked up off the deck.  His head was gone – eaten by a rodent when he was still too cold to fly away, she speculated – but his body was still alive and moving, so that was disturbing.  Who was it who said that no one can think too long about the food chain without going mad?

I thought instead about the survival of the group and about the death of the individual and some of these thoughts were sad, but mostly it was very beautiful to stand on the viewing deck and look up into the trees where, in great and dripping bunches, it looked as if the leaves themselves were breathing.