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Believe In The Possibility of Miracles

Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide

Pismo Beach State Park Grove, Credit: Lisa Damerel / Xerces Society

I’ve lived in California for over 40 years. It has many beautiful sights, but none more miraculous than the overwintering of Monarch butterflies who have flown over 2000-3000 miles from Northeastern US and Canada at a rate of 30 miles per hour, 50-100 miles a day to the California Central Coast. They travel in swarms, known as kaleidoscopes, to outwit prey and huddle together for warmth at night. Once they reach their destination, they hibernate in trees. I recall seeing vast kaleidoscopes. A single generation makes the whole trip, which is quite a feat–it takes 2-3 generations to travel back North in the spring.

Recently their population has declined precipitately due to pesticides and loss of their food source, milkweed—86% in one year and down to a horrific low of only 2000 in 2020 according to the count by the Xerces Society.  When that number was published, I could feel the grief in my body. But I’d known something was wrong for years because I hadn’t seen any Monarchs in their traditional hibernation spots.

But then, something amazing happened. This year, the count revealed over a quarter million Monarchs, a dramatic upswing that hopefully means they are not on the brink of extinction. Scientists don’t know exactly why but some attribute it to folks planting native milkweed and avoiding pesticides.

Butterflies have always been a symbol of transformation, of hope. But now, the Monarch is the living embodiment. I don’t know about you, but this good news is something I really needed. There’s so much to be in despair about right now. But the Monarch reminds me that miracles do occur, and that we can bend the arc of the world toward wholeness and health through our actions. We just have to keep at it, looking for the miracles to inspire us as we go.

And if you want to know what you can do for Monarchs, wherever you live, here are some suggestions from the Good News Network:

  1. Plant native milkweed species.
  2. Plant a diversity of nectar plants (look below this map to see the plant list for your area in the US).
  3. Stop using pesticides, or minimize risk associated with pesticide use.
  4. Contribute to community science projects, like iNaturalist, that track monarchs, and the food mapper for Western Monarch Milkweed.
  5. Visit Xerces.org to learn more about monarchs and find additional ways to help.

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