|Bound for Mexico?|
While summer heat can still top 80 degrees, some maple trees have decided to break the news that fall is coming with branches tinged red. The monarchs I saw in the prairie reserve may have been hatched there--milkweed, the pablum of the caterpillar, is abundant. Or maybe they had already traveled from Canada. Unlike the butterflies who saw birth, metamorphosis and death in the spring, in early summer, in midsummer, these may have a life span not of two weeks, but like their great-grandparents, of long winter months. And they won't just flutter from milkweed to blossom--they will travel over 2,000 miles to the high altitude fir forests of Mexico, a pilgrimage to the oyamel--the Abies religiosa or Sacred Fir.
Yes, Monarchs are migrants. While their border crossings may appear apolitical, their shifting states of residence become entangled with economic and diplomatic issues. Monarchs draw tourists to Mexico to see the tens of millions turning a tree from a thing of needles to a thick drapery of wings. But habitat all along the way is threatened. Milk"weed" is more welcome than it once was, because it's become more widely known that it is the sole nursery for monarch eggs. As with just about everything, global warming plays a role, altering what plants thrive or die where and when. As always, there's human development.
The Audubon Society warns that deforestation linked to population growth eats away at Monarchs' winter retreat: "Aerial photographs of the region 30 years ago show a forest of nearly 2,000 square miles. Today, only a tenth of it remains. The largest tract today is 20 square miles, five times smaller than the largest tract 15 years ago." Population growth, according to this analysis, has contributed to use and destruction of forests, though there have been advances in this area. "The good news is that because of an aggressive family planning program, the fertility rate of Mexico has dropped from 6.1 in 1970 to 2.7 today and Mexico's population is 32 million lower than predicted 30 years ago." Then the other shoe drops: "The bad news is that demographic momentum is still expected to carry Mexico past the 135 million mark over the course of the next 30 years."
Meanwhile, human and animal lives are recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene's unusual course. It's hard to imagine a time in the past when "Hurricane" and "Vermont" appeared in the same sentence. The Midwest sunflowers, however, rise oblivious to trees and plants and people fallen and swept away elsewhere. They wisely turn their faces to light and warmth.
Maybe our human responses to change seem more complicated, though it's hard to comprehend how after 3 intermediary generations, a monarch can trace her ancestor's route from a prairie by a silty stream to mountains far south. A poet well aware of such complications is Amy Clampitt. The following is an excerpt from her tribute to her dead brother, "Urn-Burial and the Butterfly Migration":
an urn of breathing jade, its gilt-embossed exterior the intact foreboding of a future intricately contained, jet- veined, spangle-margined, birth-wet russet of the air- traveling monarch emerging from a torpid chrysalis. Oh, we know nothing of the universe we move through!