Monday, August 5, 2013

To care and care for

Butterfly. Gentle spirit floating on the summer breeze, where are you?

Maybe you have heard about the worldwide collapse of honey bee colonies. One-third of the honey bees in the U.S. have vanished in the past few years--in fact, records show there are sixty percent fewer bee colonies than there were in 1947 in the U.S.

At the outdoor "Pollinator Party" I attended a couple of weeks ago were a number of passionate save-the-bees organizations, back yard beekeepers, the University of Minnesota Bee Squad and more folks, all gathering to learn, educate and hopefully, combat this concerning state of affairs.

Honey bee diving headfirst into a tasty blossom.

And now, the butterflies. I've seen three of them in my yard this summer. Three butterflies! When we were once companioned each summer afternoon by glowing orange wings fluttering, skimming over the grass, tiny black feet gripping flower petals, tongues unfurling to sip the nectar of our yards' daisies, zinnias, bee balm and roses.

Longfellow Gardens

Now it is August, Lammas; nearly time for the fragile, winged ones to start again on their long, long journey south, and there are few, so few to even make the trip, to lay their eggs, to overwinter in California and Mexico in glorious, breathing masses on their favorite roosting trees.

The newspaper reports that the monarch population has crashed because of the cold spring. Too cold to fly north, too cold for nectar-bearing plants to bloom when the monarch needed food and the milkweed wasn't big enough for the monarchs to lay their eggs on.

As our remaining wild places--the woodlots, highway ditches, open fields and stream edges--are mowed, treated with chemicals, planted with crops or replaced by concrete and asphalt, there is less and less milkweed and other nectar sources to sustain monarchs on their epic journey from Minnesota to Mexico and back again.

Longfellow Gardens

But wait--aren't butterflies and bees indicator species? Yes. And they are dying off by the millions, because we are destroying what they need to survive. And because we are outright killing them with pesticides. A generation of monarchs has been lost. Who notices? Who cares? John Caddy, a wonderful poet-naturalist and teacher living in Minnesota, writes:

A suddenly rare monarch butterfly
honors my yard.
Last year dozens, this year three.
All the big butterflies 
are suddenly--BANG--gone
Generations of butterflies,
swallowtails, fritillaries,
monarchs, admirals gone,
slaughtered by genetically modified 
Roundup-Ready corn.

But we will have corn syrup for our obesity
and we’ll have ethanol for our cars,
while Monsanto stockholders
grin above their jowls
and our children lose the magic
bequeathed them by the Earth
ever since human eyes opened. 
Their eyes will be less bright
and they will not know it.

from Morning Earth Daily Healing Images, August 2, 2013

Let me state here: I Care.

You care, otherwise you wouldn't be reading a web journal called Wildspell in the first place, and writing your own wild blogs...and I need and have to believe that there are many of us out there, and that we are each doing something about this planetary crisis in our own back yards.

Longfellow Gardens

We are writing our legislators, asking our stores to take these insecticides off the shelves.

We are unleashing our most powerful words to sound the alarm, we are painting visions inspired by our love and concern, conjuring up spells of protection, planting milkweed pods by the bucketful, nurturing what needs nurturing inside and out.

Restoring prairies, building brush piles to shelter beetles, learning about our native birds and wildflowers, breathing and feeling gratitude and blessing the earth every day. Falling under the enchantment of bluebells.

Praying, even if we don't believe in a god or goddess, that a shift is coming, a way of living on this beautiful planet that sustains it instead of destroys it.

Longfellow Gardens

During my daily life, I keep encountering these words written by Wendell Berry, and I wonder, is this it? I think, yes. This is what the world wants to happen, this is what The Team wants to happen, what so many loving and compassionate, connected and sane, tree-hugging-river-honoring people want to happen, and maybe it is time. Finally, it is time:

“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it." (Full quote here.)

Minnehaha Creek

Let me tell you, I am afraid. Frustrated, furious, stricken with grief. As I consider these losses I feel, in the apocryphal words of Chief Seattle, a great loneliness of spirit. What are we doing? How can I get off this ride, this society that I was born to? How can I stop harming and start healing that which I most love?

The loss of our fellow creatures is the keenest of all humanity's many losses, and I mourn them continually, with every breath, at a level so deep I can't name it. I think we all do, we can't help but do--they are part of us, the bright and shining ones, they fill our hearts with joy and wonder, they are our only blood companions on this earth, our relatives; our dearest treasures, surely?

I try to turn toward hope, for fear I will be mired in endless grief, unable to act or mend or change anything. Gary Snyder says, “Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.” “You can describe the predicament that we’re in as an emergency,” says Wendell Berry, “and your trial is to learn to be patient in an emergency.... you’re going to have to humble yourself to be willing to do it one little bit at a time."

He also says, “Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.”

I went in search of monarch butterflies at Longfellow Gardens. I strolled around each garden plot: vanilla-scented heliotrope, sweet cigarette tubes of nicotiana, nose-itching echinacea, the cider-vinegar of rich compost...found beauty, but no butterflies.

And I understood something: how sterile, pointless and empty a garden feels without butterflies and bees and hummingbirds beguiling our eyes, gathering food, supporting life on this planet.

I picked my way through the sunny meadow: musty-lemon scent of bergamot, sweet anise weeds, flutter of white moths...but no butterflies.

Finally, a flash of sun on orange wings led me a merry chase up and down paths, to the wild-spilling edges of the lawns where native thistles, bergamot and prairie coneflowers sprang purple, lavender and softbright yellow. There, on the edges, she finally settled to breathe for a moment, display her wings, playing the coy celebrity to my dogged paparazza.

I spoke to her, thanked her, wished her well with all the power of good wishing in me, the lone butterfly.

Tonight, I'm learning a little about how to raise monarchs. I will tend to them and nurture them in my best mama manner, so they can be tagged and released at my neighborhood's annual Monarch Festival in early September.

This is something I can do.

We are on a mission, my friend. For you, I share these words, which combine an affirmation, a call to action and a flickering brightness among the clouds...perhaps like light catching the wings of one small butterfly, fluttering its way across a huge continent because that is what was made to do, and hope is what we were made to do:

“The care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.” 
--Wendell Berry


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