Wednesday, September 21, 2005

4 August 2005 The Milkweed Patch

The Milkweed Patch
Seed-pods are green and the milkweed plants are taller than I am as the summer gets on. The locusts and crickets make a racket, telling of harvest and summers end. A few Monarchs visit once in a while, fewer than in July, still laying eggs I assume. They fly around here and there, liking places that are far away from the ground and sunny. These magnificent creatures do not live on the ground like we do, preferring the air, riding currents and drafts. Their habitat in the forests of Mexico, where they go in winter is also in danger. I do not know how they find milkweed, here in the city. My neighbors don't have milkweed. Never the less, Monarchs somehow find the little patch behind my house.
I didn't raise any pupae in my house this year. There was a moment last year when I looked into the eye of the monarch with the deformed wing. There was a time when I thought it would have to stay all Winter, that somehow we could find a way to keep it alive in our house in January. I did not see anything familiar in that eye, am processing that moment still.
I put that Monarch's aquarium out in the sun one beautiful day, came back later and the Monarch with the deformed wing was gone. It took its chances in the updrafts of the little envelope of air that looks as thin as an egg shell to shuttle astronauts, who can also see deforestation and environmental devastation from space.
We live here on the ground. The birds and creatures of the air have a very different view of the world. Some live right through cold Winters. Many species head south, finding no less environmental devastation there. In Spring, they come north, manage to find patches of milkweed and have children. Those children live only one year.
Their mothers lay eggs on the one kind of plant that will support them and move on. When the eggs hatch, the little caterpillars chomp and chomp, growing from a tiny fraction of an inch to over three inches long. They consume milk weed alone, then move off and make a chrysalis, hanging upside down for about two weeks. When it is time, the creatures emerge as butterflies with amazing eyes, and do what they have been programed to do, find others of their kind and fly south. Milkweed has an alkaloid in it and that makes it and the Monarch that eats it poisonous.
What has evolved perfectly over the years now has a danger; loss of habitat. Sometimes I think of this when tending my milkweed patch. I don't tend it, really. We kept the milkweed that seeded itself in the crack of our driveway a few years ago. The seed flew here from somewhere on its gossamer. That fall, it seeded itself in the garden, decided to stay. In spring when I'm weeding beds, some little milkweed plants are not pulled. They grow by themselves, don't need water or compost. Pollinators of all types sip nectar from the fragrant flowers. Almost it looks like the milkweed is moving, there are so many. Then butterflies come out of the sky to lay eggs. I like to fancy they are visiting me, but then I remember looking into the eye of one with a deformed wing, and I know they are visiting the milkweed.


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