The Butterfly Effect

October 2-3, 2021

So, Saturday was not supposed to be a good day. We had to get up, walk the dog, and then we had to head to Bellflower to help our dear dog sitter move to Bakersfield. I was worried about the move, the weather (Hot!), would the movers show up on time and what if we weren’t ready? I was worrying about if we had enough water (no), if we had enough snacks (OK), and if we would be late. I was the White Rabbit. I asked Robert to water the garden for me, and while I was out there scooping Puppymonster poop, I noticed something strange on a pot with cactus and milkweed.

It looked like a Lima bean, but larger, with gold dots, like some kind of strange garden jewelry. Then I remembered the Caterpillar (just like Alice!) who had been hanging around that pot, a Monarch caterpillar, who was diligently eating the milkweed down and somehow making it bloom more. The caterpillar, the jeweled pod: there must be a connection. “Robert!” I yelled, “You have to see this!” Robert was immersed in the meditation of watering, and slow to respond. When he finally drifted over, he said, and I quote: “Oh, weird. That looks like a chrysalis.” I thought maybe I was getting excited about nothing—but those gold dots! The jade color!—and I went back to one of the 1,000 things I needed to do to get ready for the move. Then I heard Robert yell from the garden: “It’s a Monarch!  Jenny! It’s a Monarch!” When I made it back out, he showed me on his ubiquitous phone: a Monarch butterfly chrysalis, with the gold dots and everything. We quickly moved the pot out of the Puppymonster’s range (Hmmm…what’s this? Tastes like…milkweed! Yuck!)

And then there was the move, and like all moves, it was slow and fast, easy and hard, and never my preferred activity for the day, but when you have to move, you have to move. We came home across LA’s freeways, me thinking about the Literary LA class I am teaching, the traffic taking our time, the night coming on, but still hot with that funky, sweat smell that is LA. And then we were done—as in, tired on the couch and talking about past moves, ordering pizza, hearing from our friend that they made it to the new location, that everything was fine. And then sleep like a collapse came for us, until the dawn.

The birds are quieter in fall than in spring, but I was awake at the morning light. I wanted to see what was up with the chrysalis. Just like Christmas morning, I waited for it: breakfast, coffee, rousing Robert and the dog, but then finally it was time. I expected to see a darker jade chrysalis, for the Google had told us it was a process taking days, but what we saw was the chrysalis turned black and even translucent, the Monarch wings visible. We thought we had time, and should wait for the sun to hit it for a better photograph, but when we went back out to check, there it was. A Monarch butterfly, dripping butterfly juice on my table, just emerged.

And, so, we sat there. We locked up Harold-the Puppymonster, let Ferdinand the Desert Tortoise out, and we just…watched. We were watching the first time he spread his wings. We knew then that he was a he because of the black spots. Every time the butterfly moved we gasped. Actually, and this may be TMI, I don’t think I have ever made those sounds except in intimate situations, but this was an intimate situation: we were seeing a being transformed, coming into a new existence, drying his wings, and preparing to fly.

We sat there for at least an hour, the drum banging in my head of “Everything we need to do! Everything we need to do!” and Robert telling me, “We are only going to see this once. Stay here.” Being present in the moment is a challenge for everyone, but once I got Ferdinand beside me on the deck, instead of trying to get under the other deck and pursue Criminal Tortoise Activities (long story redacted, here), I relaxed. We watched the Monarch open and close his wings, learned he was a he, and named him Jimi. We watched the pool of butterfly juice collect on the table as he dried and watched him watching us watching him.  Then, again with the fluttering of wings, and gasps from me, it happened: he took his first and likely shortest flight, to the Bougainvillea bush, where he just sat. And sat. And then, eventually, the day happened—we walked away, and the butterfly flew away, and now I will never know when I see a Monarch on my milkweed if it is him or a relative, and that is OK. Just as I will miss my friend, I know we will meet again—maybe not the butterfly I named Jimi, but other butterflies. I planted one milkweed plant years ago, and now I have more than 20. Monarchs need milkweed.

And just so we are clear, it is no accident that Monarchs are a symbol for Immigrants. Monarchs migrate, and they are in danger. I can’t imagine a world without Monarch butterflies, but I fear that is what we are heading for if we don‘t make some changes.

Jimi flexes his wings: https://youtube.com/shorts/NfkkGfh5WLc?feature=share

CHIRLA: https://www.chirla.org/

Xerces Society: https://xerces.org/monarchs

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