The Earth burns. Citizens are shot for no reason other than the color of their skin, and children are sent to unsafe schools and back home again. The pandemic is ignored or politicized and masks are too much trouble for many, even if science says they work.
As I read the news, despair hangs in the air. Hurricanes in Texas and Louisiana. Too many western fires to count. China and Afghanistan struggle with floods.
At home, in my shelter from the storm, tan gypsy moth egg cases smudge the trunks of oak trees in the forest. They promise an infestation of destructive caterpillars followed by leafless trees next summer. Humans are no match for gypsy moths—or fire or tornadoes or floods. Meanwhile, I dutifully write “get out the vote” postcards and send donations as small exercises in hope.
How do I survive in this world?
I cling to beauty to avoid sinking beneath grief into despair. My teacher Marion Woodman warned me about my tendency to despair. Grief aches, but has quiet faith in transformation. Despair gives up. I’m not ready for that.
I find beauty and hope with Monarchs in late June, when the first few glide over milkweed fields, flashing orange in early morning light. Then my job begins.
I gather four dozen 1 cup jars and mesh crates from the barn and set up the back porch butterfly nursery. Each morning, I search milkweed leaves for eggs and bring them home to protect them from predators. After the eggs hatch, I fill each jar with a square of bamboo paper towel to absorb moisture, a milkweed leaf, and a tiny caterpillar. I give them fresh milkweed leaves each day since, in less than two weeks, they increase their mass 2000 times.
When the caterpillars are half grown, I move them to communal mesh crates filled with milkweed shoots. They munch and grow for another week before hanging in J hooks to become chrysalises. Then they pause in their green cases for over a week before becoming butterflies while I repeat the process with new eggs and caterpillars, more milkweed, and clean crates.
By late August, newly emerging Monarchs have long gliding wings for riding the winds to a small area in the mountains of Mexico. I begin saying goodbye after sharing three magical months with them, hoping to see their descendants in the spring.
Monarchs teach me a caterpillar’s pace, one leaf at a time without concern for the future. They teach me persistence as they survive impossible odds to transform from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly before migrating over 2000 miles. They show me transformation is possible in unimaginable ways. They give me faith in Nature’s magic dance.
Each floating Monarch is a despair-defying prayer.
What helps you avoid despair? Poetry, meditation, family, friends, volunteer work, Nature, scripture, music, writing, painting? If you’d like to help save Monarchs and join the dance, I suggest a website called Monarch Butterfly Garden for every aspect of raising and protecting them. For the first article I wrote about Monarchs when I began this project in 2017, see Mothering Monarchs, Mothering My Soul. For another post about Nature’s essential role in my marriage, see Healed by Nature, Inspired by Love.