By: Ellen Nimmo
Imagine – a book asked of me – an entire generation on a journey, en masse, towards a place they’ve never been, to survive, to fulfill their purpose and make the long voyage back, returning from whence they came.
The book asking me to envision this scene was a book about butterflies. Monarch butterflies.
I like butterflies. But, then again, who doesn’t?
Their lives are so mysterious and beautiful. Feeding on flower syrup, moving from place to place like fairies from Neverland. The delicate wings with their curious patterns and colors. The well-known, gold speckled chrysalis. Not to mention the stark contrast with their former grub-like selves, the gorging caterpillar. Their former self. It’s the same creature, only not.
That is to say, it was something and became something else. The one dies and the other emerges.
Much of what goes on inside the cocoon or chrysalis is still a mystery to scientists, but one thing seems obvious – the caterpillar stops being a caterpillar. Most of those cells die and the new cells, the butterfly ones, get turned on and come to life. Wild.
This all came to light for me, in a fresh way, when I was part of a small group called “Learners.” In this group topics and member names were placed into respective “hats” and each week corresponding names and topics were drawn out. Members whose names were drawn and paired with a topic were given one week to research and present on their topic the following meeting. As favorable fate would have it, my name got drawn alongside the topic: Monarch Butterflies.
I read kids’ books, internet articles, science journals, and encyclopedia entries. I learned fancy terms like negatively geotactic, which relates to the butterfly’s “wiring,” their preference to move upwards against gravity. And positively photo-tactic, a preference for moving towards light.
What fascinated me even more than their wings, their silk-start chrysalis, their pollination importance, or their desire to move up, against gravity, was the discovery that Monarch butterflies have a destination that they are moving towards – a place they have never been before! The Oyamel forests of Mexico. These fir tree forests, remnants from when the earth was cooler, provide a safe haven for the butterflies to winter. Science has yet to discover how they know where to go, many of them traveling up to 2800 miles in the process.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the Monarch again. Their resilience. Importance. Their mystery and beauty. Perhaps it is because we find ourselves in this season of cocooning. A forced chrysalis.
Could it be, the slower pace, the sheltering in place, is a silky covering for change?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying we ought to neglect or ignore the fact that during this time, during this pandemic, a lot of things are scary, uncertain, weird. But, what I am proposing is, what if we took a leaf from the Monarch’s book? What if we took a look at what stillness can do? What if, I mean, man, what if this is an opportunity to let the gorging parts of us dissolve? What if we took the elimination of hurry in our lives as a chance to reanimate? Into creatures that move up and towards the light.
For me, it’s something I want to try on.
See if it fits. See if something beautiful can emerge from this time of shelter and solitude.
Back when I gave my presentation to the “Learners” small group, I ended with a poem. An ode of sorts. And, in this season, I find myself more in awe than ever . . .here’s to the Monarch!
Ode to the Monarch
|Danaus Plexippus |
Nymphalidae the family
Your flight is slow & sailing
Your life is brief & key
Both wholly do amaze me
What is more, i cannot see
A change from this
In solitude, chrysalis
From thine own back
A mystery of beauty
(two, if you’re keeping track)
To get thee safely back