Edie and I drove south up the
Ridge Parkway on Saturday.
We gave a few of my monarch books to people who gave clues they might be
interested. Some books to the hawk
watchers at Mills Gap Overlook. One to a
man riding a Harley motorcycle. Another
to a woman taking pictures of butterflies at Caney Fork Overlook. The man had been an Interpretive Ranger for
the National Park Service up north and on the BRP. He now drives a tour bus and is a
professional photographer. He showed us
a photo of a lovely, huge timber rattler he had seen the day before at the
Caney Fork Overlook. The woman had been an environmental lawyer for years and
now she’s working on a book on black bears in the Smoky Mountain NP. She also does photography professionally and
offered me a little critique on my photos. We had long talks with both of them and I hope
to stay in touch. We only saw two
monarchs all day.
On Sunday, yesterday, I drove up by myself and spent most of the afternoon at Cherry Gap Overlook. (There weren't any monarchs at Pounding Mill and John's Rock overlooks.) Again, I gave out books. After I arrived I noticed a woman in green who seemed to be taking pictures of a monarch I had seen feeding on aster. It was the only monarch around at the time. Since I had arrived, three others had flown over, not stopping. I stood beside her and made some comment. Yes, she had come up to see the butterflies. And when I gave her my book she was more or less flabbergasted because she had been intending to buy it at the Botanical Gardens on her way, but she had run out of time. As we talked, two other women came up, Jennifer and Renee. They said they had been eavesdropping. Of course we were happy for them to join us and I gave each of them books, too.
Jennifer, then told her story, which I will recount as best I can. (She said she’d write it and send it to me, but for now I’ll go off memory.) Twenty years ago that very day, her baby, Blake, had been born, but not alive. Stillborn at full term. For his memorial service, Jennifer had released some monarchs, and now every year on the anniversary she honored, mourned, and celebrated her son by coming up to the parkway and releasing a butterfly balloon. When I heard this, I said, “I brought a monarch butterfly with me that emerged just this morning and I’ll let you release her, if you like.”
I had used this monarch as a chrysalis at our table at the NC Arboretum’s Monarch Day. I tied thread around the cremaster stem, plucked the silk pad off of the wire frame it had been attached to, and hung it and two others on a lovely flower arrangement of zinnia, aster, goldenrod and beech I had made. When the butterfly emerged yesterday morning, I just carried it, still hanging on its chrysalis shell, to the car and hung it from my rear view mirror.
Well, Jennifer took pictures of the butterfly hanging there, and later as it rested on the car seat after it had decided to try to fly a little. Jennifer carefully coaxed the butterfly onto her finger and then walked it to some aster blooms where she coaxed it onto them. Later on, when she was ready, the butterfly flew away, on to
Mexico, we hope.
I was certainly moved by hearing Jennifer’s story and by the opportunity to be a part of her memorial day. The other woman, Renee, did not know Jennifer before yesterday either, but as I was talking with someone else, I heard them praying together. I told Jennifer that one of my life themes was “The heavens declare the glory of God” from Psalm 19, which goes on to say, “the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” Renee said she also had lost a child.
Perhaps another dozen or more other people came up for monarchs through the rest of the day. I spoke with many of them. We formed a little Cherry Gap counting team and between 1:00 and 3:00 pm we counted 95. It was a steady flow of flyovers, none stopping to feed. I’m sure we missed some because we were so busy talking. I’d like to round the number up to 100, but that wasn’t what happened, even if five flew over in a group just after I stopped my count.
At about 3:30 I drove out to Caney Fork Overlook and didn’t see any monarchs there at all, even though it was warm and calm and a lot of asters were in bloom. Jennifer was there and that’s when I took pictures of her balloon.
On the way home I stopped at Cherry Cove Gap again and the butterfly traffic was still strong. A couple I knew from church had come up with another couple just to see the butterflies. I showed them my book, and it was funny that they weren’t very interested. I had given them a three minute talk on life cycle and I guess that satisfied their curiosity. Perhaps when people know you, they take things for granted. I didn’t give them a copy partly because I was running low.