6:42 a.m. 30 degrees, wind W 0 mph. Sky: in the east, a crescent moon
gleams through a torn and frayed run of clouds, not yet white; twilight
enriched by remaining yellow leaves; otherwise, woodlands gloomy and
cold, and filled with robins. Chickadees, everywhere and bouncy . . .
enthusiasm for a frosty morning. Three crows, black below the gray canopy.
Wetlands: glazed and still. Pond: reeling mist, quiet surface. Although not
much to look at, the alders between the pond and wetlands, still green and
leafy, lure birds: chickadees, both kinglets, both nuthatches, song
sparrows, and a lonely, dyspeptic blue jay, constantly complaining.
Golden-crowned kinglets make chickadees look *big*. Chickadees make song
sparrows look *big*. Three days without a red-shouldered hawk, which made
every other valley bird look small and fragile.
Yesterday, I saw a monarch butterfly sipping goldenrod nectar in the lower
pasture. When through, the butterfly fluttered south, pushed by a northwest
breeze. Above the pasture fence and a dimming wall of hardwoods . . .
What is the difference between a maple loosed by the wind and an airborne
monarch butterfly, both about the same size? A monarch knows where
it's going—a three-thousand-mile trek to a remote forest high in the
mountains of Michoacan, Mexico, undiscovered until New Years Day, 1977. So
astonishing was the news that more than one hundred million, maybe a
billion Halloween-colored butterflies, wintered in Mexico that both *National
Geographic* and *Natural History* ran cover stories and *The New York
the discovery on page one.
That a butterfly ever gets there is a miracle.
From Coyote Hollow, the butterfly follows the Connecticut River south to
Long Island Sound. It may cross the Sound and join others that
island-hopped from Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket to Block Island, then to
the forked tail of Long Island; from Orient Point or Montauk Point, it may
travel west along the outer beaches—the Hamptons, Fire Island, Jones Beach,
Long Beach, the Rockaways—then across New York Harbor and south down the
coastal plain. On October 14, 2000, a monarch banded fifty-seven days
earlier, in Essex Junction, VT, landed on the South Fork of Long Island.
The butterfly had flown two-hundred-fifty miles, progressing south an
average of four-and-a-half miles a day.
The alternate route: the butterfly skips an ocean-crossing and follows the
Sound's north shore, west along the Connecticut coast. Both routes
merge over the Jersey Shore, and together the monarchs fly toward the
Gulf, feeding the whole way to Mexico. Once at their overwintering site,
the butterflies fast.
In 1996, by some estimations, a billion monarchs were overwintered in
By 2014, the population had collapsed to thirty-three million.
For a Vermont butterfly to reach Michoacan having negotiated tropical
storms, cold fronts (and frosty mornings), hungry mice and shrews, and an
altered climate accompanied by out of sync blooms . . . nothing short of
an Earthly miracle.