September 12, 2023

Monarchs Teach Me to Trust the Cycle of Life

I feel the gentle pinch of grasping butterfly feet on my fingers before she walks on to taste flowers and freedom.

She pauses as she explores a goldenrod for the first time and sways in the wind before lifting off to fly a short distance. Is it a test flight?

The Monarchs were more than a month late this year. After the smoky apricot skies in June caused by north winds from Canadian fires, I fretted and whined and lost faith in Nature. Where could my soul friends be? Would I see them again? Would they soon be extinct? Did the smoky air make them lose their way?

Then in late July, I don’t know how or why since they usually arrive around June 1, I find Monarch eggs in the milkweed and wildflower fields west of the barn. By late August, a few fertile females leave enough eggs under milkweed leaves to match last year’s abundant Monarch season.

How can it be when I rarely see a Monarch?

The butterfly-to-be and I spend a month together on my back porch. She and other eggs found in the field become tiny caterpillars munching tender milkweed I provide. As I wander, I find a few more eggs each day and bring them to the nursery. I’m mesmerized as they eat, grow, and become green teardrop chrysalises. After a week of quiet, I see dark wings under the green chrysalis skin. The next day the Monarch emerges as a butterfly, another of Nature’s Magic Tricks.

After she and others who emerge that day fan and dry their wings, I walk them back to the wildflower fields where I found them a month before as tiny eggs and saved them from hungry ants and spiders.

Their wings soon open wide like a boat with orange sails as they catch a ride on the wind.

As I praise the beauty and wonder they bring me, I think of grandmothers and children waiting for them in Mexico, creating Monarch altars with orange marigolds and sugar candy to honor Monarchs as returning souls of the dead.

Flying from the young hands of Zia and Amira

Still here in my field, the long winged migrators have a perilous journey ahead. Will they make it? Will the winds help them or block them this year? Will we say hello and goodbye again? Will I learn to trust that Monarchs are survivers and will find a way, at least for now?


What has ended or begun for you this summer? I still have 20 Monarchs in the nursery and they’ll all be gone by the end of September. Maybe I’ll get my book finished then. Do you have special fall projects you want to finish?

For other posts about Monarchs, see Somersaulting into Life: A Monarch Butterfly Birth or  Dancing with Monarchs, Defying Despair.



  1. September 24, 2023 at 8:36 pm



    Dear Elaine, Thank you for yet another lovely piece on Monarch Magic! I imagine by now all your Monarchs have flown out into the world and are on their way to a spot in Mexico, where they will be greeted with great joy and reverence.

    What is ending for me right now is the life of my closest friend. My husband and I will be at her side as she “dies with dignity” in less than three weeks. It is her time to leave her struggling body, and it will be our time to grieve. And there is so much, including your beloved Monarchs, that teaches us to trust the cycle of life.

    Sending autumnal blessings your way, Anne

    1. September 25, 2023 at 10:13 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Two more Monarchs will fly today, Anne, and they seem to have especially long wind sailing sings this strange year. I ended up with many migrators despite the scarcity of mid season egg layers. After today, I have six more chrysalises waiting to become butterflies–and that’s it. We have a warm week ahead according to the weather forecast, so I hope they get a ride south.

      I’m glad you and your husband can support your friend. I wait for NY State to have better laws for “Death with Dignity.” A bill in the NY Senate doesn’t seem to move, but eventually it will. My good friend had a quick and surprising death a few months ago with no warning. Not many people get to die naturally and simply now. May there be peace in your coming experience. Your friend is fortunate to have you at her side.

  2. September 13, 2023 at 4:14 pm



    Thank you Elaine! The Monarchs came back to you more beautiful than every. Some Monarch Mamas really know where to lay those eggs!

    1. September 14, 2023 at 3:27 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Harriet. I love sharing the Monarchs with the little ones and you. I don’t think more return here because of me. It’s because I have fields of common milkweed and then I search and find those tiny eggs with more diligence than most sane people.

  3. September 13, 2023 at 3:58 am

    Aladin Fazel


    Dear Elaine, we had a chaotic summer here, primarily rainy and cold, and as I might have mentioned, with very few butterflies. However, it is always lovely to see you with these beautiful Monarchs. PS: These Monarchs are the only majesties which I truly admire!! Take care and stay well.

    1. September 13, 2023 at 10:03 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Those of us who had chaotic weather without catastrophe are the fortunate ones in this world. I can’t imagine the level of crisis with war, starvation, earthquake, destroyed dams, fires, droughts, and floods from snow melts and torrential rains. The worst flooding and fires here are far west or north of me, so we’ve just had strange cool weather with nothing life-threatening. I laugh at your comment about royalty and agree that these are the only Monarchs I admire. There’s a related butterfly called a Queen and I admire her, too. I’m sad about the situation in Iran. I don’t know if the prisoner exchange will lower tension, but I hope it does. In this country, it’s another just excuse for political attacks on Biden. Best to you and may there be peace in Iran and everywhere.

  4. September 12, 2023 at 9:01 pm

    Marian Beaman


    Earlier this year, I waited with bated breath as you wrote about longing to see the monarchs arrive. When they turned up later than usual, I rejoiced, knowing how much their presence means to you. Yay, for the monarchs!

    Now I wonder if the El Nino wind currents this year have anything to do with the monarchs’ late arrival. Google says, “El Niño events can disrupt normal weather patterns in the United States and globally.” Maybe the change is a factor with monarch migration, maybe not.

    Do I have special projects waiting to be finished? Yes, I’m trying to blend music with a PowerPoint homage to bereaved class members for our 60-year college class reunion this fall. Now, how to sync the Ashokan Farewell with the slides?

    I have a feeling that you will complete your manuscript, I will get my PowerPoint presentation finished, and the monarchs will return to delight grandmothers and children waiting for them in Mexico–all in good time!

    1. September 13, 2023 at 9:51 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Marian. I’m glad they came, but the pattern I’d learned to expect (like Pavlov’s dog) changed. I wonder what will happen next year and find it so mysterious that all migrator eggs appeared on milkweed with few Monarch sightings. I’ll be interested in the winter census in Mexico. It could have been related to El Nino and it was definitely related to strange smoky northern winds from Canada caused by wildfires far north of here. We’re all one world and it seems our expected patterns are in disarray.

      I just listened (best I could) to Jay Ungar & Molly Mason Family Band play “Ashokan Farewell.” It reminded me so much of Ken Burns and his films about the Civil War. The music made a big impression on me in the early 1990s and that impression outlasted time and deafness. I’m sure your presentation will touch many hearts. May your feeling or intuition come true for you, for me, and for the Monarchs. With love from the land near where you were raised.

  5. September 12, 2023 at 4:22 pm

    Deborah Gregory


    A beautiful, gentle and thoughtful post, thank you Mama Monarch! Trusting the cycle of life is challenging when you’re thrown ‘curve balls’. Here in the UK, spring didn’t begin until late May. Next came June’s unprecedented heat wave, followed by bitterly cold and blustery July. Thankfully the sun arrived for the second half of August, followed by yet another heat wave last week. Like you, we’ve had such a strange year! Your photos are joyful and wonderful as always Elaine! I love them all, especially the one with a Monarch flying from Zia’s and Amira’s hands. The butterfly looks almost as big as their hands!

    What has ended this summer? That’s a great question and I know my grief isn’t over following my parents deaths but I feel a shift internally, like I’ve moved out of smoke-filled skies and know I won’t be incinerated. My dreams seem to be literally taking me to a hall of mirrors where the archetypes are calling me. There’s an unfolding going on and most days I feel like one of your suspended, green teardrop chrysalises! It’s a strange feeling, like waiting for the other shoe to drop. You asked! My wish is for you to enjoy every moment of these last weeks with your beloved butterflies. Love and light, Deborah.

    1. September 13, 2023 at 9:31 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, dear poet. Tumultuous weather is world wide and heart-breaking, but it hasn’t been catastrophic here so far. We lose power more often because of extreme lightning storms, so I have to remember to keep fresh water on hand for drinking and washing. Stormy weather is hard on Meniere’s Disease disequilibrium, but I’m slowly lowering my medicine dose anyway–and struggling to adapt. Power went out about 8pm last night and I couldn’t read or wash the dinner dishes, so I went to bed and enjoyed the extra sleep. I released one Monarch from the nursery yesterday morning, but he had time to fuel up with nectar, “get his wings,” and take shelter as needed. They fold their wings and wait it out in an evergreen tree. Amira is about three and the Monarch was almost as big as her hand. She wasn’t sure about having them walk on her skin, but her big sister convinced her it was OK.

      Grief is an ever shifting experience, especially complicated grief. It’s good to notice it closely and that’s what you do. It must be a challenge to deal with that ominous feeling, but I know you’ll stay with it and not run. I wish I would remember dreams like in the past. I know when I awaken that I’ve been dreaming, but have no recall–not a color or a sound or a voice or any detail. I have notebooks full of dreams, but all my tricks for recall don’t help. So, besides daily inner conversations with Vic, I’m doing sandtray which is another way to access the unconscious. I may be writing about that soon. Thanks for your wish. I just did a count and there are 28 chrysalises still in the nursery. The weather forecast is for a calm period, so I’ll likely have butterflies another week or ten days. Love and peace to you across the stormy seas.

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