I love butterflies and have always grown perennials that are good pollinators because they attract bees and butterflies as well as providing nectar for my hummingbirds. I also have milkweed plants growing in every open area on my property, and up until recently, used to raise a monarch or two from caterpillar to chrysalis to adulthood. Now that these butterflies are scarce I no longer do. This year I note that I am seeing fewer butterflies in general, much to my dismay. With one exception.
All summer long I have been entranced by the number of Fritillaries that have been fluttering through my garden since late May. Such abundance, when so many butterflies are disappearing! The days of taking any wild creature for granted are over for me, and that includes the insects I see.
After identifying the Fritillary that visits my garden as the Great Spangled Frittilary I began noticing others; some visit Peter’s Meadow across the street, a meeting place for many happy insects. Over the course of the summer I have also seen the Meadow, Aphrodite, and Atlantic varieties. The Great Spangled fritillary is my favorite, but I am a walking welcome mat for all that choose to visit!
Fritillaries are a large group in the butterfly family with many species that inhabit this country. All have tiny front legs that lack claws, thus the phrase used to describe them is ‘brush-footed’ butterflies. Fritillaries are medium – to large in size (wingspan can be as much 3 and ¾ inches) and their wings are bright orange or somewhat rust colored (depending upon the species) all with spots and wavy black lines. Since most fritillaries look somewhat similar it is necessary to examine wing patterns closely, something I never did until this summer. For example, fritillaries look a lot like Checkerspot and Crecent butterflies so its important to check some resources to be sure what you are seeing. There are excellent photos online that are well worth looking at. So much variation and such astonishing hues and patterns!
Fritillary caterpillars vary in color depending upon the species, but most feature 6 rows of branching spines that go all the way down their two inch bodies. They are somewhat unfriendly looking to me!
Their life cycle is similar to most butterfly species with egg, larval, pupal, and adult stages. The adults are active all summer long and although it is almost September I am still seeing some, though not in the numbers I had before. Presently they are feasting on my old fashioned hydrangea. Most species overwinter as larvae and emerge in early spring as caterpillars that only eat violets. No violets, no fritillaries. And some are endangered. Let’s hope that Maine.Gov removes violets from the invasive species list. The last thing we need is the loss of another butterfly.
Fritillary adults and caterpillars are still ‘relatively’ common in mountain meadows, fields and other weedy areas. The Great Spangled fritillary, the one I see the most, has a Latin name that means Mountain or Earth Mother. They are the most frequently seen species inhabiting Northern and Eastern states. Let’s please do everything we can to keep them around!
The adults mate in the summer; afterwards the females take a nap for a few weeks (diapause). In late summer they lay their eggs in patches of violets. Female Great Spangled fritillaries seem to be able to find the violets even after they have wilted. It is possible that they can smell their roots. Because the female does not lay eggs until fall the caterpillars emerge to feed when the violet plants are young and tender in early spring. Timing is important to the hungry caterpillar. It is feared that global warming may disrupt this synchronization; this would prove catastrophic to fritillary caterpillars. Studies are underway to verify whether this is already taking place.
Because the caterpillars feed only on violets and I have carpets of them (which I refuse to have cut in either spring or fall) I wonder if this is why I have so many of these butterflies? The adult butterflies feed only on flower nectar. Around here they love butterfly weed, milkweed blossoms, white phlox (in particular) and bee balm best. Joe pye weed, black eyes susan, wild thistle (also on invasive plant list) and purple coneflower are other favorites. They do not hesitate to visit lilacs and butterfly bushes either.
Because I spent four years in Northern New Mexico where I also kept a flower garden I knew I had seen the Great Spangled fritillary a few times. When I checked a number of sources I learned that this state has its share of fritillaries too – many more species than we have in Maine – and the Great Spangled fritillary was one, although it’s a bit smaller in size. Others included the Aphrodite, Edwards, and Southwestern fritillaries. What a diverse family of butterflies. I am thoroughly hooked! Most of these fritillaries live in wet mountain meadows where they can find violets on which to lay their eggs. But it is possible to see them just about anywhere. The adults are quite fond of blue flax, which I grew, and if I spend another winter there I would also grow violets in a pot in the hopes of attracting a visiting fritillary! In Santé Fe Great Spangled fritillaries feast on pansies, which of course, are members of the violet family.
With so many insects disappearing at an alarming rate I am hoping that folks that read this article will consider buying pansies, and adding violets to their gardens or lawns ( refusing to cut the latter) so we give these beautiful butterflies a chance to stay around for awhile.
Gray birches are native to Northeastern North America and like their close relatives the Paper birches are a pioneer species, springing up in abandoned fields, woodland edges or disturbed areas. After land has been logged they are one of the trees along with poplar and willow that often germinate first, providing much needed shade for second succession trees and plants.
Gray and paper birches are easily confused as both have white bark, and they often grow together in the same habitat. However, they can be easily distinguished by bark texture or leaf shape. Gray birch bark doesn’t peel and has sharply serrated leaves. White birch has leaves that look and sound more like those of the poplar. Both birches are almost identical genetically.
Neither White or Gray birches are long – lived trees, but those that find enough moisture will grow into sturdy adults that may live for more than a hundred years. I have a few like this on my property.
Prior to the arrival of European settlers, Gray birch was held in high esteem by many Native American tribes. The Iroquois and Mi’kmaq tribes valued this tree for its medicinal properties for treating infected cuts and wounds (reinforcing the reality that native peoples have access to information that science is just getting around to learning today). Northeastern Tribes made wide use of the outer bark of white birch for constructing canoes and making wigwams. Birch bark was also used to make hunting and fishing gear; musical instruments, decorative fans, and even children’s sleds and other toys. Today, the wood is used primarily for pulp, furniture, and firewood.
Renowned Forest Scientist Suzanne Simard discovered that when Paper birch was allowed to grow along with Red cedar and Douglas fir in the Northwest the birch protected the other trees from Armillaria, an aggressive root pathogen that eventually kills any tree in its path. Armillaria is found everywhere but in the Antarctic. Paper birches also contain bacteria with antibiotic properties that help protect conifers from other diseases. I suspect that Gray Birches protect our eastern forests in similar ways that Paper birches do in the west because the two are close relatives sharing almost identical DNA structures. Birches have another advantage. When the trees come down in storms the logs break down very rapidly enriching the soil. Birches support the mycelial networks that connect all trees underground creating pathways for nitrogen and carbon to be exchanged. Simard argues that tree plantations would benefit greatly from allowing birch to grow alongside fir because they protect them (and other species) from disease. A forest lacking in diversity is weakened in many ways that we don’t yet understand.
Birches have other attributes worth mentioning. Birch seeds are an important food source for many winter birds, including goldfinches, pine siskins, northern juncos, blue jays, chickadees and sparrows. Go out any morning after a wind blown snowstorm and you can see that the surface of the snow is covered with tiny birch seeds. Juncos, blue jays, titmice, chickadees, cedar waxwings, ruffed grouse and other birds also eat the early spring buds. While the seeds are important for wildlife including small mammals, the trees are used in many other ways too. Snowshoe hares and cottontails browse the twigs. In spring, birch catkins attract many insects, which in turn attract large numbers of migrating warblers and provide nourishment for bears.
Gray birches are also hosts for the caterpillars belonging to several species of butterfly, including tiger swallowtails, white admirals, mourning cloaks, and tortoiseshells.
Birches can also be important nesting sites for red-tailed hawks and vireos, as well as for cavity nesting birds like chickadees and woodpeckers. Small strands of birch bark are the key materials used by vireos in their hanging nests, while many other birds and red squirrels incorporate this material into nest and den linings. In addition, yellow-bellied sapsuckers regularly drill into birches to allow sap to run out. Boring holes into birches attract ants for others to feast upon. As you can see birches are important to a wide variety of species.
Anyone that is familiar with birches knows that both Gray and to a lesser extent White birch are vulnerable to high winds and ice. During last winter’s ice storm in December I lost many of my birches. I was devastated because in all these years I have never lost as many trees at once as I did in that storm. For the rest of the winter I looked at bent and broken birches feeling heartbreak. When spring came I was overwhelmed with the amount of debris that I thought I had to clean up. It took a while to accept that in an intact forest like mine, birch trees will fall more easily than other species have in heavy winds, ice, and snow. It is the nature of birches to bend and break. It’s not as if I wasn’t aware that my woods were peppered with fallen birches; the difference was that they hadn’t all come down at once. Birches open areas to more sunlight without disrupting the integrity of the forest itself.
As the season progressed I witnessed how the dying birch created more habitat for birds and young saplings. One big cluster of fallen birches created a protected nesting site for the grouse to raise her family on the other side of the fence. As more light reached the forest floor new wildflowers appeared. My Lady slippers sprung up after I cleared some debris below the house, and later fragrant pyrola carpeted the ground in the same area. And thanks to Forest Scientist Suzanne Simard, I learned how important the dying birches were in terms of protecting the other trees in the forest from disease. I continue to note how fast the logs decay and how rich the earth smells whenever I pick up parts of a rotting log, something I do quite frequently now. Wood frogs and toads hide here! If I dig below the surface just an inch or two I can see the colorful complex mycelial network that disappears into the leaf litter. Although I am hoping that this winter will be kinder to trees than last winter was, I am also aware that with climate change upon us that more extremes are ahead. I hope that the birches will continue to teach me a lesson about acceptance of what is, and what will be. When I look at the birch logs stacked for this winter’s firewood or I walk by logs crisscrossing the ground in the woods all I can think of is that these trees are caring for the forest as a whole by dying, and I give thanks for actively participating in the endless circle of life.
I have been re- reading Carol Christ’s Rebirth of the Goddess reflecting upon my own journey over these past 40 years, remembering how her image appeared to me as a bird goddess the day I first worked with river clay… When I discovered that some of the images I sculpted of bird goddesses mirrored those in Marijia Gimbutas’s The Language of the Goddess I entered an unknown realm. All I understood at the time was that I was being called by some unknown force. I had no idea that this power existed not only without, but within, and that someday I would be able to name both Nature and my Body as the source of that power. And come to understand that they are One.
“ The image of the goddess is the catalyst that enables women to clear away the false consciousness of self hatred, dependence, and dualistic thinking created by patriarchal religion. Once this is accomplished the image of the goddess is no longer necessary.”
The goddess is then a transitional figure who ushers in immanence.
And yet, here are Carol’s words that describe the ‘both and aspect’ of her experience of the goddess. She writes:
“I experience the goddess by fully entering into a relationship with a particular tree, a mountain, a person, not by attempting to separate myself from… other beings… She (the goddess) has a personal aspect too – She is a power who cares about my life and the fate of the world”.
At no point does Carol suggest that the power of the goddess can stop the patriarchal rape of woman or climate change, only that she cares. The power of the goddess is not omnipotent. She operates within a finite and changeable world. “The cycles of nature are her cycles.” Carol also writes that when we violate the web of life the body of the goddess (nature) is desecrated.
At the time of her mother’s death Carol had a mystical experience that embedded her in the reality that the ground of all being is love. She said she understood that she was surrounded by a great matrix of love and always had been. “The power of the goddess is the intelligent embodied love…that undergirds every being, including plants, animals, and humans, as we participate in the spiritual processes of birth, death, and renewal.” This is revelation, is it not? I believe Carol took her scholarship and experience and infused it into every aspect of her life, passing it on to us as possibility regardless of where we might be on the goddess continuum.
Yesterday I visited a woman friend who loves animals the way I do, preferring their company to that of humans much of time. We call ourselves hermits, but of course, our animals and those we care for remind us that however much we may experience loneliness or despise ourselves/others we are infinitely lovable. (Yesterday my friend’s dog immediately sensed that I was struggling with loneliness and immediately showered me with kisses – herein lies the power of the goddess).
Why is it that betrayal by others has the power to turn us against ourselves? All I know is that for women like us that have been harmed by humans we loved, beginning with those in our own family, it is a natural response to channel rejection and distrust of people into feelings of loneliness, self/other hatred (often masked as depression) while turning to animals for acceptance, love, safety, and sustenance.
I may know what I am doing to myself but I have not found a way to overcome my general distrust of humans, although when I experience feelings of separation and self hatred I refuse to give into them relying on endurance to survive these periods. I have to remind myself over and over that nature is mirroring back the love I cannot feel from humans through my relationship with animals and nature as a whole.
I learned first that animals were my most powerful teachers; later the rest of nature ‘animated’ me literally bringing me back to life when all else failed.
I want to end this loneliness, this false sense of separation from people that my experiences, my attitude towards those that harmed me, and my patriarchal culture have laid upon me; I just don’t know how. In my mind I truly believe that all life is interconnected in mysterious ways, and in my body I can feel/ experience this relationship as truth it except when it comes to humans… Rejection and betrayal loom as threats and these are embodied too.
I think of Carol who experienced love as the ground of all being… Perhaps the Goddess will intervene.
Although my poem ends here there is a part of me that projects my heartbreak and rage onto the planet hoping for retribution:
even as S/he prepares
to redress imbalances.
Hell has no fury
like this ‘Mother’s’ scorn.
“On Monday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientific body convened by the United Nations, released a major new report concluding that the world cannot avoid some devastating impacts of climate change.”
The New York Times 8/9/21
The best we can do is to mitigate the extremes ahead; we can expect raging fires, intolerable heat, flooding, cyclones, tornados, melting glaciers, droughts and other natural disasters to change the face of the earth for at least another 30 years even IF humans are capable of reducing our carbon emissions at all. Tree deforestation is responsible for 20 percent of our present carbon emissions. The remainder is due to the use of fossil fuels, big industry, agribusiness, trucks, cars, flying planes, burning wood or pellets, running air conditioners, etc. etc. There is no doubt left. Man is the culprit of this natural holocaust, and if we are people we are all culpable. So much for human hubris. Like Icarus, a few powerful men flew too close to the sun, and now, as a result of egregious actions and our complicity we all begin to fall…
For many years I winced when I heard people calling the earth “mother”. That warning bell has never ceased to ring (the one exception is that of Indigenous peoples whose loving, respectful, reciprocal relationship with the earth continues to help them survive patriarchy – these people have earned the right to call the earth ‘mother’).
As a feminist I continue to shudder when I think about how the unequal structure of patriarchy has treated our human mothers – sentimentalizing them, judging them, refusing to pay them, treating them like servants, raping them, leaving them in poverty as they aged if not before, and worst of all, expecting “perfection” at every turn, and if a mother does not live up to this patriarchal cultural ideal we BLAME them without mercy. Men, women, and adult children – all are culpable.
And we wonder why mothers blame themselves?
What chills me as an eco feminist, is that it is also clear to me that what we are doing to our human mothers we are doing to the Earth. To give the reader just a few examples: We sentimentalize nature through romantic art and poetry, yet we judge her as one who is ‘red in tooth and claw’. Mother Nature is cruel and uncaring. We blame her mercilessly for natural disasters. We routinely rape, slaughter her forests, mine her precious body for minerals gas and oil, pollute her waters, and air. We accord her no sentience, no feelings (except as enemy); she is a ‘resource’ to be used and abused by humans, men, women children alike.
The one difference between human mothers and the Earth is that as human mothers we are blamed/and/or blame ourselves for our shortcomings. Nature does not engage in blame. The Earth is focused on survival of the whole planet and not its individuals. (Yet what astonishes me is that she is capable of such deep compassion, as those of us who turn to her for help soon learn. She becomes a mirror witnessing for us in our joy and in our grief). Change is who She is. ‘She changes everything she touches… Everything she touches changes’. To that end, we are now seeing Her beginning to redress the imbalances that humans have created. As the youngest species on the planet we are literally her children and for some it is tempting to hope or believe that she has grown tired of abuse and is about to erupt in rage. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Earth is invested Life and to that end she is willing to make whatever necessary sacrifices are needed to achieve that balance. Life, death and renewal, this is the circle of life as Carol Christ has stated repeatedly. That we all will suffer, human and non – humans alike is inevitable. But one day, as our stories have been teaching us since the dawn of humankind, she will birth an Earth that has been purged of its tormentors.
I, for one, am finally nearing a point of acceptance of what lies ahead. Losing all the people I loved and having to witness the death of so many birds, animals, flowers, trees that have sustained me throughout my life have brought me to this edge, a place where I am finally getting ready to let go.
The Power of Dreams…Roughly two year ago I entered a dream that was so vivid that I still feel as if I lived through it. I had a small clear bubble in the palm of my hand; it was wrapped in plastic. When I removed the cover and opened the sphere I saw to my astonishment a tiny ark that was overflowing with animals, trees, every conceivable living being and there was so much green. I was overjoyed. This was the Earth! Life would go on. It was only afterwards that I realized there were no humans to be seen…
Abandonment is a curse we don’t outgrow. Not being loved by our mothers follows us all the days of our lives. I used to think I would grow out of this need – that the abandoned child would recede, but instead she continues to follow me wherever I go. Recently, I realized that my only hope was to grow my own version of a loving mother, and that I needed to begin that process by turning to my mother and my Motherline for help as well as to the trees I call ‘my mothers’.
I have loved trees all my life and cedars in particular. Amazingly, it was years before I remembered that my mother loved them too. Once when she was about 60 my mother brought me a cedar seedling in a clay pot. I dutifully planted the tree. I had no idea whyshe brought me this cedar. We had a one-sided relationship; myquestions were not encouraged.
That incident occurred more than 40 years ago, but I am still planting cedars… I think the trees I used to call “The Mothers” were my ‘natural mothers’ but also were the women of my Motherline that always seemed too far removed from me, probably because my mother taught me to reject them as she did. Today, my intention is to draw them in along with my mother in a different form. Perhaps my mother even demonstrated her love when she was alive by gifting me with a tree? Women and trees are woven together like a tapestry.
In a world where an unequal power structure dominates the relationship between men and women women are vulnerable. Barbara’s story is a perfect example of one woman’s attempt to find direction and acquire power in a potentially dangerous but compelling way.
“I was born into a Republican, Calvinist, working-class family in Ferguson, Missouri, and was a teenager during the 1950s. Nothing remotely “spooky” or occult about my life. I was fortunate to discover the Unitarian Universalist Association during my freshman year in college and was a happy Unitarian until the late 1970s, when I completed my formal schooling and moved to Southern California. Nothing spooky or occult about the UUA, either.
After I moved to California, I met people interested in occult and metaphysical topics. I wanted to know more, so I started reading. I read the mainstream metaphysical literature, the books on the European Occult Revival and the various psychic sciences, books on ceremonial magic, New Thought, alchemy, the Qabala, theosophy, metapsychiatry, and the Universal White Brotherhood. I read Madame Blavatsky, Charles W. Leadbeater, Annie Besant, Dion Fortune, Horace Quimby, Stewart Edward White, Charles Francis Stocking, Manly P. Hall…well, the list goes on and on. (Those books are still on my shelves.) Although I learned enough to be a walking footnote to this day, I didn’t learn anything helpful about the spirit guides that a popular teacher in Anaheim told me were running my life. My boy friend was regularly doing automatic writing, so under his tutelage, I tried automatic writing, too. All I got was a stiff hand. I visited The Psychics To The Stars. I went to a spoon-bending seminar. (I bent one spoon). I attended a remote viewing workshop. All I got was a lot of debits in my check register. I didn’t meet any of my spirit guides.
One day I went to a local metaphysical teacher. “Well,” she told me, “have you tried the pendulum?” Although I didn’t realize it, that was the beginning of the end of my enchantment. But it took me more than a year to get through the learning process. What this teacher told me to do was get a piece of typing paper and print the letters of the alphabet on it in an arc, like a Ouija Board, plus the numbers from 1 to 10. She showed me how to hold a pendulum above the paper. Soon it began to swing from letter to letter, spelling out words. “Just write down the words,” she said. “This always works.” “Good for you,” my boy friend said, “but just to make sure you don’t get under the influences of any evil entities, say the Lord’s Prayer before you begin. And give yourself an hour or so every night.”
Reader, do you know the meaning of “compulsive”? Have you ever seen obsessiveness in action? I should mention here that my son, Charles, was twelve years old at the time. He has always been very bright, very skeptical, very resourceful. I suppose I could safely say that my adventures with the Invisibles helped him become more resourceful and self-sufficient. Within a week or two, my nightly hour with the pendulum doubled. We moved the TV into Charles’s bedroom. My doubled hour doubled again. I sat on the couch, not watching TV, not listening to music, not talking on the phone, not reading paperback mysteries, not petting the cat, not meditating. I sat there with a mini-Ouija Board and a pendulum and talked to spirits. As I told Charles, I was watching the “wizards drive the pendulum.”
I don’t remember the names of all the Invisibles who came through my pendulum, but Wow, I thought. Now I know why I’m on earth. I know what My Purpose In Life is. Four hours every night after work with pendulum, spelling out a sentence and writing it down, spelling out another sentence and writing it down, watching the wizards steer the pendulum round and round and round.
An Invisible who said she was Isis also came and talked to me. She said she’d been my mother in a past life. (Really??) Another Invisible said that my boyfriend had been David and I’d been Bathsheba. Another one said I’d been Cleopatra (the topic of my Ph.D. dissertation) and he’d been Caesar and another boy friend had been Marc Antony. Another one said my boy friend and I had been the King and Queen of Atlantis. Guess what? I wasn’t even skeptical. Yet.
By this time, my boy friend, who had been doing automatic writing for four or five years, had a whole stack of notebooks filled with different kinds of messages in different handwritings, none of them his own. My stack of pendulum papers was about ream-high. We were waiting to assume our rightful places in the sacred hierarchy of the world.
One Friday night, as soon as supper was over and my son was in his bedroom listening to Billy Joel records, I picked up my pendulum, assumed the position, and waited for wisdom. The pendulum began to swing.
We want you as our earth slave.
I put the pendulum away. I went into Charles’s bedroom and watched TV with him.
But I was addicted. First thing Saturday morning—back to the pendulum. We want you as our earth slave. I prayed over my paper Ouija Board. I cupped the crystal pendulum in my hands and prayed again. I visualized white light on the paper, around the pendulum, around my hands, around my pen and notebook, around my whole body, filling my living room. White light everywhere. I called upon angels and spirit guides to protect me.
We want you as our earth slave.
Our Father Who art in Heaven—
I had figured out by this time that I could influence what the pendulum said. I could make it spell out what I wanted it to say. Not this time.
Don’t bother praying. It won’t work.We want you as our earth slave.
…hallowed be Thy Name….
It was noon. I tore up the paper and burned the pieces in an abalone shell on sacred sand. Then I buried the ashes in my back yard. I took the expensive crystal pendulum outside. I also took a ball-peen hammer and used it to smash that crystal. I burned the black thread, and buried it all. But I was addicted. Sunday morning, I found another crystal point and tied it to another piece of black thread.
What’s going on here? I asked. Then I held the new pendulum over my new paper Ouija Board and waited.
Who are you?
My name is Walter Troll.
I nearly dropped the pendulum. Who are you? Why are you scaring me?
That’s not really my name. But you may know me as Walter Troll. It’s my job to scare you.
Well, you’re doing a really good job of it.
Glad to hear that. Have you looked at your life lately?
No. All I’d been looking at was that pendulum. I’ve been learning things from my spirit guides,I replied to this new Invisible. And Isis, she’s a famous goddess, you know, and she talks to me all the time. They say I have a mission on earth.
Do you expect me to believe that?
I believe it!
Do you really believe what a pendulum is telling you?
Yes! Of course I do. Why wouldn’t I?
It was, Walter Troll told me, time for a reality check. What is the quality of your life?
The quality of my life was lousy.
Good girl. Now pay attention. The way to live your life is to get out there and live it. That’s trite, yes, but it’s quite true. You’re so smart? Examine your life. What are you actually learning that is of any use to you, your son, or anyone in the world? What are you learning that is true and useful?
Reality check, indeed. I put the pendulum down and picked up a pencil and wrote in my journal. I went for a walk. I took Charles out for lunch and we had a genuine conversation about the wizards driving the pendulum. And more important issues. I phoned a friend, who said she’d been wondering if I was still alive. Monday morning, I went to work and edited a proposal to build a cement plant in northern Idaho. Then I edited a report on a construction project in Florida. After work, I came home and watched a little TV with Charles, then took him out for supper. We came home, watched some more TV, and after he went to bed, I picked up a paperback mystery. I had to start at the beginning because I’d completely forgotten the plot.
Atta girl,Walter Troll told me Tuesday night. If you spend all your time waiting for instructions from spirit guides, what else do you have time for? You want a task on earth? How is your son growing up? When’s the last time you spent time with your friends?
How could I reply to him?
I thought for several minutes. Walter, I said, are you my friend? Really? Who are you?
Yes, my dear, I am your friend. Who do you think I am?
I wish I knew! Why are you here? Why did you tell me you want me to be your earth slave?
Do you still believe you’re the queen of the earth?
Well… No. That just doesn’t make sense.
Do you need this pendulum?
Okay. Yeah. I’m looking at it with clearer eyes now. But why did you scare me? Who are you?
Walter Troll never answered my questions. Like the Little Prince, he was much better at asking questions than answering them. But you know what? He made me face myself. To this day, I don’t know who he was. And all the other Invisibles who talked to me through that pendulum—were they real or did my needy self make them all up? I’d read quite a lot and, when I reread their dictation, I saw that none of those invisible beings that drove the pendulum had said anything I hadn’t already read.
Who was Walter Troll? I have never heard from him again. He spent a week in my head, a week driving my pendulum. What he taught me was to be skeptical of “messages from beyond.” He taught me to look closely at power and magic and claims of power and magic. He taught me that the invisible world may exist only between our ears and beneath the canopy of our skull. The invisible world may also be all around us. It can be hard to tell the difference. And he taught me not to be afraid of knowledge, whether it comes from worlds visible or invisible. He taught me to face gods, goddesses…and invisible trolls. Walter Troll had arrived just in time to tug me back toward feminism, to point me at the Woman’s Movement, and to prepare me to meet the Goddess.
Who is Barbara Ardinger? Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer.Barbara also regularly publishes stories on Carol Christ’s feminismand religion.com, a blog that I read and contribute to regularly.
What I find most compelling about this true story is that “becoming an earth slave” is one way of aligning oneself with the powers of earth/self even before Barbara had a conversation with Walter Troll. Aligning oneself with the earth allows the goddess to manifest in one’s life. For me this has meant that I see my self as part of the whole earth. I don’t see the goddess as a mythological figure. I see her in every tree, flower, dog, bird, wild creature. She lives in the green of my woods… she births life out of every rotting log. When the birches lie down to die in the forest they nourish the soil for new life. Life, death, renewal…This is the circle of life.
Almost every day I spend a little time down in my field waist high in the milkweed searching for caterpillars and hoping for the sight of a Monarch. This summer I have seen five Monarchs in all and none have been spotted in my field. Of course Monarchs don’t need to feed on milkweed nectar; they have many other choices. And this year the milkweed flowers bloomed so early that most Monarchs weren’t even around to feast on the fragrant flowers. I usually don’t start seeing these beautiful butterflies until early July and sightings used to peak around the end of the summer here in Maine. The startling flaming orange Mexican sunflowers and Liatris are favored monarch nectar blossoms neither of which I grow here because I don’t have full sun, but I do have Butterfly weed, lots of it, and twice a Monarch has visited along with clouds of Frittilaries.
Even if flowers are barely open, or have passed quickly in the heat, Monarchs have an amazing variety of sensors, including antennae and chemoreceptors on their legs that allow them to detect the plants they are encountering for edibility. While Monarchs are able to fly long distances to find milkweed host plants and nectar sources, widely spaced milkweed patches mean that females need to search longer to find places to lay eggs, and thus they lay fewer eggs over the course of their lives.
Wading through fields in search of Monarch caterpillars is something I have been doing most of my life. In the spring I plant acorns, raise frogs and toads; in the fall I watch Monarch caterpillars transform into butterflies…or I did. I still plant acorns, raise frogs and toads but now, even if I find a caterpillar I leave it where it is. So far this year I haven’t seen one, but I keep looking…
Global statistics on the decline of all insects, which include the Monarch, vary from 75 – 40 percent depending upon the sources consulted and regions studied. Some places have not been researched so the picture is not complete. Scientists are deeply concerned about what might be the worst threat of all –Climate Change – but even without the latter the general trend is alarming because these butterflies like all invertebrates are at the bottom of a food chain that affects us all, human and non humans alike.
According to the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), not all insects are declining. Some moth species are increasing. Numerous temperate insects, presumably limited by winter temperatures, have also increased in abundance and range, in response to warmer global temperatures. Around here the prevalence of ticks especially deer ticks are excellent examples. Mayfly swarms are also on the increase. In some places, native herbivores have flourished by utilizing nonnative plants as adult nectar sources or as larval food plants, and there are even instances where introduced plants have rescued imperiled species.
However, “Monarchs are the face of the wildlife extinction crisis,” states a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The eastern Monarch population is made up of the butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains and accounts for roughly 99% of all North American monarchs. The butterflies migrate each winter to Oyamel fir forests on high-elevation mountaintops in central Mexico to spend the winter. Scientists estimate the population size by measuring the area of trees turned orange by the clustering butterflies. That population has been dangerously low since 2008.
In December of 2020 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put Monarchs on the waiting list for Endangered Species Act listing, which confers no actual protection to them or their habitat. Yet the U.S. Wildlife organization has estimated up to an 80% probability of population collapse for eastern Monarchs within 50 years and a 96-100% probability for the western population.
“Now the 2021 count shows monarch numbers declining even further,” states the Center for Biological Diversity because of Monsanto’s toxic Roundup. Monarchs are threatened by pesticides, herbicides, global climate change, loss of habitat, and illegal logging of the forests where they migrate for the winter. They are also threatened by mortality during their migrations from roadkill.
Monarchs have lost an estimated 165 million acres of breeding habitat in the United States to herbicide spraying and development in recent decades. The caterpillars only eat milkweed, but the plant has been devastated by increased herbicide spraying in conjunction with corn and soybean crops that have been genetically engineered to tolerate direct applications. The butterflies are also threatened by neonicotinoid insecticides, fungicides and other chemicals that are toxic to young caterpillars.
Monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter on the central coast of California. Their numbers have plummeted by 99%, and fewer than 2,000 total butterflies were counted this winter (2020 -21). The western migration has collapsed in part due to warmer winters, pesticides, loss of habitat etc. and to people planting invasive tropical milkweed.
An eastern Monarch’s relationship with the climate is complicated. This insect is not a typical migrant that spends the winter in the south, comes north to breed, then returns south in the fall. Monarchs take a number of generations each year to reach their northern breeding areas and if even one of these areas is compromised it can affect the whole cycle. The forth generation born during the summer is the one that makes the long Journey south to Mexico from Maine each fall.
The yearly count of Monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico (2021) continues to show a dramatic decline in this imperiled species. Today’s count of 2.10 hectares (5.2 acres) of occupied winter habitat is down 26% from last year’s count. The minimumpopulation threshold needed to be out of the danger zone of extinction is six hectares. In the wintering sites in Mexico, as forests become more heavily degraded by logging and drought they are less able to buffer the Monarchs from temperature extremes, including both warm daytime temperatures and cold nighttime temperatures.
What can we do to help the Monarch butterfly stay with us as long as it can?
Some solutions are simple. Plant milkweed, or simply let it go wild instead of mowing down entire fields where it grows naturally. I mow my small field in the fall once after all the birds have fledged and most of the autumn flowers are spent (wild asters and goldenrod continue to bloom around the edges of my field attracting late Monarch arrivals). This approach allows me to keep a protected open space during three seasons and still allows for summer’s wild abundance.
If you don’t want a flower garden create a wildflower meadow like my neighbor has. Peter’s Meadow is replete with red and white clover, daisies, vetch, black eyed susans, blue grass, yarrow, milkweed, and more. I have seen two Monarchs feeding in this lovely space.
If you garden, plant flowers the Monarchs are attracted to like Mexican Sunflower Liatris, Salvia, Butterfly weed, Bee balm, Vervain, Verbena, Zinnias – there are so many excellent choices – visit our local pollinator garden to see what Mahoosuc Land Trust (ML) has planted to attract the Monarch butterflies.
Stop using pesticides/herbicides ANYWHERE.
Stop growing genetically engineered seeds.
Fall In Love with every Monarch you see.
And perhaps most critical, join any organization that is dedicated to working with the overwhelming problems associated with Climate Change and our crisis of biodiversity.
In an effort to trace the migration of Monarch butterflies, citizen scientists (including children) are encouraged to collect, tag, release and report on monarchs in their respective areas. Although well intentioned, I am disturbed by this practice because there are studies that indicate that when Monarchs are captured and held by humans their hearts race and they exhibit a high stress level. Creating more stress for an insect who has to make an arduous fall journey to the mountains of Mexico is not something I would feel comfortable doing. This practice may be useful for people who need statistics to tell them how fast these beautiful butterflies are disappearing, or whether one butterfly made a successful journey but who is asking the Monarch how it feels?
Taken from an article posted by The Northeast Wilderness Trust (NEWT)
The role of Indigenous Peoples:
“Perhaps the greatest positive change in the conservation field over the past 20 years has been the broad recognition of the critical role played by indigenous peoples and local communities in delivering conservation outcomes through local values, norms, and resource management systems. Mainstream conservation leaders now regularly extol the importance of indigenous and local leadership in global conservation issues, while a growing volume of research documents the incredible contributions made by indigenous people to biodiversity conservation. Moreover, as pressures on remaining wild lands intensify, it is increasingly clear that local communities and indigenous peoples are literally the people putting their lives on the line to save tropical forests and other rich ecosystems – not for conservation but for their self-determination, cultures, and territories – which are bound up in those landscapes. This reality has been strongly reinforced by the realities of conservation during the pandemic, when local organizations have steadfastly maintained their presence and support to communitiesthroughout the shutdowns and disruptions.
In this context, conservation needs to truly speak to these social struggles and the worldviews of the indigenous people and other local communities that are increasingly the true conservation leaders of our days. Conservation has to be socially and politically relevant to local communities around the world – from villagers in Mozambique, to indigenous people in the Amazon, to coastal communities in the Western Pacific.
Local communities and Indigenous peoples in the tropics are increasingly recognized as critical for effective conservation.
Growing networks of indigenous and community-led conservation organizations are strengthening the voices of those leaders. Stronger financial support to assist local communities and indigenous people secure their territories, such as the $459 million in philanthropic pledges made at the 2018 Global Climate Summit, could also play a crucial role.
Conservation cannot be successful if it continues to be in conflict with those who should be its strongest allies. Greater investments should be made in supporting efforts to secure indigenous peoples and local communities rights to their lands and territories, which is often a foremost challenge to both survival and stewardship. Conservation has an opportunity to fully recognize the huge investments that indigenous people and local communities make in safeguarding the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystems – estimated at up to $1.7 billion annually in forested parts of low-income countries. This recognition should be at the heart of the next phase of global conservation agreements and their financing.
This all provides an excellent opportunity to redefine the profile of a conservationist, shifting towards a more diverse profile of the people who are living and working on the front lines each day, in their community or country. They are the true conservationists, regardless of education level, race, and gender.”