This improbable journey began while walking through my gardens with a friend on a perfectly clear Indian summer afternoon. It was the 21st of September 2012. Stopping to admire late-blooming flowers, I noticed a big, fat, juicy monarch caterpillar hanging upside down, preparing to go into her chrysalis. I almost missed her since she was so well camouflaged among the golden rod.
The next day, the first of Autumn, she went into her chrysalis, emerging a month later, on October 20th. I had already brought her into the house in a net enclosure since it was getting to cold for her to survive outside. I have been raising and releasing monarchs for forty years and almost every instance of a monarch staying in its chrysalis too long results in wing deformity, usually curled at the edges, thus impairing flight. This female monarch emerged big, beautiful and perfectly formed.
She inspired me to come to her aid. I knew she wouldn’t be able to fly with temperatures below 55 degrees, nor would there be enough flowers with sufficient nectar to fuel her on her long journey to Mexico.
I left a message for someone in the P.R. Department of Southwest Airlines asking if they would fly a late emerging monarch to Mexico from Albany Airport. Not expecting to hear from anyone, Brooks Thomas called the next day and responded positively to my unusual request by offering to fly both my butterfly and me to San Antonio. Eliciting the advice of a leading monarch scientist, Dr. Lincoln Brower, I learned how best to pack the butterfly safely for the journey, and learned that my big beautiful monarch would be able to join other monarchs for their final flight to Mexico from San Antonio, where there were still many.
Seeking the advice of another monarch scientist, Dr. Chip Taylor, I learned of a local butterfly enthusiast, Monika Maeckle, who might be able to help me locate a perfect place to release my monarch. I also learned that I could go to jail if I didn’t have a permit to transport my butterfly across state lines.
I found out who I had to contact to get a permit, the head entomologist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. It took a few hours for me to get the courage to call him. He became another hero of my improbable journey. I said my name and started to explain who I was and how I have been involved with butterflies for so many years. Before I could finish my introductory sentence, Wayne Weyland said I know exactly who you are. I was taken aback. A couple of days later, I found out that he happened to own a copy of my book, The Spirit of Butterflies: Myth, Magic & Art. I spoke from my heart and beseeched him to come to our aid. He said it usually takes two or three months to get a permit. Great, I’ll be legal and the butterfly will be dead. Wayne, my hero, used his special saber to cut through red tape. A special single use permit was issued in two days.
We originally planned the journey for the first of November, El Dia de Muerto, Day of the Dead, All Saints Day, but Hurricane Sandy’s chaos and disruptions made us postpone till November 5th. Our hearts went out to all who suffered and lost so much. The butterfly is the symbol of hope, the environment, and renewal. She continued to sip nectar from my finger twice daily, as the storm raged outside.
Monika arranged for the release at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. It could not have been a more perfect place. On beautifully landscaped 38 acres, they have special gardens devoted to host and nectar plants for local butterflies and those traveling through, the monarchs. The Executive Director, Bob Brackman, and staff were warmly welcoming as were the butterflies, people, and media awaiting my and my butterfly’s arrival.
This has been and continues to be a journey of the heart and hope and having dreams and facing and overcoming challenges and being inspired to take action to not only save the habitats for these creatures that touch our hearts, but for each of us to become good guardians of our beautiful planet to sustain all life.
A world without butterflies would be a world without hope and we cannot let that happen. We cannot replace all the habitats that have been destroyed, but our gardens can save many species, including our pollinators. A word from the butterflies: no matter how many times the gardens of our lives or our planet are destroyed, we can rebuild, replant, and renew.
And my heart is filled with gratitude for all who made this improbable journey a reality.