Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Return of the King

Some people mark the calendar by days of the week, or dates of the year. Me, I’m a naturalist, and mark the calendar by the rhythms of the natural world. Skunk cabbage in bloom in a February wetland signals the coming spring; the first trillium or trout lily announces high spring; the first warbler migrating through deserves a celebration.

Last week, June 5—the day my nonprofit was hosting its huge annual gala—a Monarch butterfly drifted lazily across my path.

The first Monarch of 2008. Good omen for the gala. And, for me, the official beginning of summer.

Monarchs—those big butterflies wearing Flyers jerseys—famously spend the winter in remote Mexican mountain valleys, where they encase the trees keeping each other warm. There, they become the longest-lived butterflies of all, surviving as long as nine months waiting out the winter season.
As spring dawns, the females begin the journey north, making it maybe to Texas, searching for the first milkweed, the only plant they lay their eggs upon. After the females lay their eggs, they collapse from exhaustion—and die.

And it’s that next generation that continues migrating north—and here it is, in early June. Summer is here; nature’s clock continues, and the Monarchs are back in town.
Want to know more? Visit Monarch Watch or Journey North.

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