Back from the Brink – 2

The first conscious thought that gray morning was that we would be amidst giants. The truest, wisest, most resilient of all. We had planned a hike in the coastal redwoods of California near Muir Woods for the husband’s birthday. As we entered Cathedral Grove (a better name I cannot think of, for spirituality shines through the branches of the tall old trees), I pointed to a sign that said , “Be seen not heard!”. 

“Yes….that is for you!” Said we all pointing to one another. 

“Quiet Coyote!” We agreed and off we went, quieter than our usual selves. There is a natural sanctity, a lasting feeling of peace, and a humbling of self in these groves. 

Many of the trees in Muir Woods are over half a millennia old. These trees had put down roots long before the Spanish conquistadors came to the United States, or the Gold Rush had started. California would not be the same after these events. Silicon Valley was centuries away, when these marvelous giants had started reaching up up and above towards the skies. But here, inside the redwood forests, none of that seems relevant. 

After several feet of hiking up, we were able to gasp for breath, inhaling the lovely scent of the woods, and conversation started up again. A few miles into the hike, there were fewer people, and the children opened up. Talk turned to Beautiful Earth, a popular classic in the nourish-n-cherish household. The son told us about the disappearing monarch butterflies. I remember visiting Butterfly Grove a few years ago. It was easy to mistake the butterflies for leaves. There were thousands of them plastered together on the branches, hanging everywhere, looking beautiful. Millions of them made the journey every year up and and down the coast, and they made a beautiful sight. Who doesn’t stop to admire a flitting butterfly? This year, less than 2000 monarch butterflies were counted. The species is dying. A world without butterflies sent a shiver down my spine.

What have we done to this planet if butterflies are no longer in our midst? 

The daughter piped in, “You know monarch butterflies are corner species – meaning they indicate the state of the ecosystem in general. For instance, if monarchs go away, then birds find out that painted ladies aren’t problematic either and soon we start losing species that look like them as well.” Apparently, the monarch butterflies are toxic to birds and they leave them alone. Seeing a little evolutionary wormhole there, other species like the painted lady butterflies evolved with the same color scheme, but they aren’t poisonous to birds. How long before birds figure this out?

“But how did this happen?” In the decade since we went to see the butterfly grove, how did 99% of the species manage to be destroyed

“Milkweed!” This ubiquitous plant that thrived along roadsides, freeways and everywhere is fast disappearing due to increased use of fertilizers. Toxic to other animals, the milkweed is apparently a major source of nectar for the monarch butterflies. Could we bring these butterflies back from the brink? It seemed like a miracle would be required.

A world without butterflies is not one I wish for our grandchildren. I shuddered in the grove, and sent a little prayer up towards the towering redwoods. What will these trees witness in another 500 years? They are already enduring more frequent wildfires, and though, redwoods generally hold up very well against wildfires, the frequency with which they have been occurring in the past few years is not comforting.  

Back home, my eyelids holding the short-term memory of the redwoods in them, I closed them, instantly transported to a world in their midst. Forest bathing. Those of us who still have the magic of trees in us are blessed indeed. Those of us who stop to see flitting butterflies need to pray that future generations have the magic of butterflies around them.

Wise Generous Trees

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

 Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

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