As fall arrives, monarch butterflies begin their arduous migration south. I’m in awe of their ability to cross vast distances, in their delicate brief lives. Their flight is not the graceful arc of sandhill cranes, who fly far overhead when passing. Monarch wings don’t give lift like those of geese or bald eagles. Monarchs are mere inches of beauty; fractions of an ounce of compelling living color. I watch their zigzag patterns of flight, seemingly no match for the smallest breeze. I marvel that they exist at all.
Most people appear not to notice the monarchs crossing the highway, except for ones on the windshield. Monarchs feel compelled to move despite dangers they’ll never understand. In reflection I realize I’m also compelled by the same instinctive need to keep going. I too have little knowledge of the danger and beauty at hand.
What a zigzag migration my own life has been. What an equally jagged pattern your own life traces beside me, as we intersect and diverge. So busy in the motion of our latest morning, it’s easy to lose track of how far we’ve come, and how far there is yet to go. It’s only when I look up for a moment—when I pause my ceaseless migrations—that I notice the length of our own travels. Decades are a distance as much as a time stretch. They’re a pathway across our own part of history, invisible from a distance, vast from in close.
I find freedom in moving unnoticed. Perhaps monarchs do too, on some primal level. Perhaps not. Either way, one trouble with invisible freedom is the accidental damage we do to ones we don’t notice. For now I’m aware of the monarchs that are missing; but it’s hard to remember to see ones who aren’t here. Butterfly habitat is in decline. Cities grow where fields once did. Is concrete a weed?
The missing monarchs speak to me as urgently as the ones still fluttering across the wind. They reflect back the decline of our own shared habitat. Our habitat’s a physical environment, sure—we focus on that as concrete climbs like ivy, temperatures soar like eagles, and forests burn with excessive heat. Our habitat of emotions is threatened as well, though: our habitat of kind relations with each other; our habitat of understanding and compassion. We need kindness as much as monarchs need milkweed. We need cause to rise, inspired by the morning to continue our zigzag flight across the day. Without a habitat of love and celebration we’ve lost the route to which our migrations have called us.
Yes, it’s a zigzag life, as fragile and delicate as a butterfly’s. Somehow we’re still living it. I want to pause often enough to be grateful for that; to never forget what we’re migrating towards. I want to always recall that monarch lives are too brief for a single butterfly to even complete one journey south and north. One migration takes four generations. The butterflies take flight to serve descendants they’ll never meet. Our migrations are no different. Nature asks that we risk selfless journeys for our roles to be fulfilled.