Our Inner Monarch

Those of you who follow me on Facebook know I’ve been fostering Monarch caterpillars this summer. Yes, I came to it late in the season and that’s not a metaphor. 

I collected each caterpillar from my milkweed and placed it in a large mason jar, using cheesecloth across the top to allow the air to flow. First it chowed down on a few of the milkweed leaves I’d added, deposited a few tiny black specks that resembled elongated peppercorns, then curled up and spun itself into what in grade school we called a cocoon, a chrysalis, with a luminescent greenish cast to it. 

Here’s a short video my son Dave took of just such a transformation.  I’m unable to make it smaller; I hope you can watch it. 

VIDEO CREDIT: David Ackerman

Isn’t that spectacular?  Watching the caterpillar build its chrysalis was as spectacular as watching that butterfly emerge two weeks later.

Here’s another video of one of Dave’s Monarch’s emerging. 

I’d taken my second chrysalis to Ohio with me on Monday and the butterfly emerged sometime Tuesday evening.  The next morning, eleven-year-old Kendall, who has done this many times, and I let it go. 

We watched it head south.

USDA Forest Service
The monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration as birds do. Unlike other butterflies that can overwinter as larvae, pupae, or even as adults in some species, monarchs cannot survive the cold winters of northern climates. … Some fly as far as 3,000 miles to reach their winter home! CAPTION AND PHOTO CREDIT: USDA FOREST SERVICE

How did it know to do that? 

Instinct, you’re saying. I know. But what is that?

From Google: an innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior
in animals in response to certain stimuli.

From Wikipedia: the inherent inclination of a living organism towards a particular complex behavior. 

From the Cambridge Dictionary: the way people or animals naturally react or behave,
without having to think or learn about it.  

It’s not rational, that’s obvious. 

I had this moment fixed in my mind when, twenty-some hours later I found myself in front on my computer screen watching C-Span (my son has no TV) and drawing parallels. 

Were those 11 white men on the We want Judge Kavenaugh side following an instinct? A survival instinct so powerful that all they could contemplate was I must make this happen? They didn’t seem rational. That’s all I knew.

Just how rational are we humans? How open are we to allowing new information to influence a decision we’ve already made? Or, once made, are the positions we’ve taken as fixed as the migration pattern of the spectacular Monarch butterfly? 

How about you? What’s your take on how rational we humans actually are? 

26 Responses

  1. susan scott
    | Reply

    Please thank Dave for those wonderful videos Janet! This was watching a miracle in action.

    Butterflies and buffalo do what they do – their inherent function is fulfilled. Humans? We have a ‘restraint’ button that maybe has to be learned. Humans can also think in abstract terms, and can look forwards and backwards. We can exercise our power of rationality. We can be open to persuasion to differing views when the evidence is clear even if in conflict to our own views. Unless we’re still trapped in an infantile narrow prison … Plato’s cave comes to mind.

    Re BK and his henchmen and women … that power drive over others is a strong as it is in the jungle. I doubt they know the meaning of restraint.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Susan. Thanks for starting us off. I love that this blog is read around the world.

      I agree; humans indeed think in abstract terms; that’s often used as a sign of maturity. And I like the idea of our ability to hold conflicting thoughts at the same time, something well documented, and done to varying degrees of success by different people. Can you see our instincts kicking in when we go into survival mode, though? And when our identity is threatened, I’m theorizing, many kick into survival mode. Too many. Who am I? is life affirming. I know; it’s a bit of a leap.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our Inner MonarchMy Profile

  2. Woody Starkweather
    | Reply

    The films are just wonderful. I think humans are more governed by instinct (genetically acquired proclivities toward certain behavior patterns) than they may realize. I’m not sure that rationality and instinct are so diametrically opposed. It’s just that sometimes they come in conflict.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Woody. Thanks for adding your thoughts. Are you saying we might well have an instinct to be rational?
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our Inner MonarchMy Profile

  3. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    Wonderful films. Humans can act both rationally and irrationally. But we can also think, analyze, make choices, and reconsider. Perhaps Flake instinctively chose to side with the GOP, but then made a rational (or calculated) decision to ask for the FBI investigation. Then we can look at 45, who never acts rationally.
    Merril Smith recently posted…If a Deer Runs in a ForestMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh yes. Friday brought some reason back into the picture. We’ll see how far it takes us. Thanks
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our Inner MonarchMy Profile

  4. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    The monarch migration is a miracle, as is the emergence from its crysalis.

    As to your question, humans can act rationally only if they choose to see all sides of an issue, especially ones they don’t tend to support. Being “fixed,” usually makes one brittle, hard around the edges. The word obdurate comes to mind.

    I hope Elaine Mansfield sees this post, another Madame Butterfly – ha!
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Aunt Ruthie as a 100-year old: Her Diary SpeaksMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      miracle came to my mind as well, Marian, mostly because I totally don’t understand it. Not sure anyone really does. I felt privileged to be able to be a part of this cycle, even in my limited way. Truly WONDER-ful.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our Inner MonarchMy Profile

  5. Elaine Mansfield
    | Reply

    Wonderful videos. I have 2 to release today when the fog lifts. They want out!! Another will emerge today and then another tomorrow. I hope I can release them all by Friday or Saturday when we have another round of warmth. It’s been a hard year for the late season stragglers because of storms. I wish I could ship my last 4 little ones to Texas and help them out, but maybe they’ll make it to Mexico on their own. There are plenty of nectar plants still in my field. Today’s your big day little ones. Please have another sip of sweet cherry juice before your trip.

    Watch out, Janet. Raising them is addictive. I’ll have released close to 100 this summer. A back porch with 4 butterfly crates became an office of late summer stragglers in jars and then in crates waiting for a warm day without rain.
    Elaine Mansfield recently posted…Honoring A Family Death with Personal RitualMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Elaine. And welcome. My 11-year-old granddaughter taught me that the Monarch butterfly does not eat the milkweed leaves I had added. Just the flowers. But of course, there were no more flowers left. Do you know how they bulk up for their flight?
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our Inner MonarchMy Profile

  6. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — The video clips are amazing. I love that your son doesn’t have a television. He and I must be cut from the same bolt of cloth. This post has served up lots of delicious food for thought for me. Thank you!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Laurie. Yes, not only no TV, but his kids don’t get any non-school-related “screen time” (smart phones, computers) during the school week and are limited on the weekends. One Christmas when I wanted to get the girls tablets, they said No. The upside is that when the girls were younger, we’d actually get entertained after dinner with impromptu plays or music concerts.

      I’m glad the post has gotten you thinking. I’ve been chowing down on the ideas since Thursday; trying to see it in a broader picture.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our Inner MonarchMy Profile

  7. Bette Stevens
    | Reply

    Spectacular videos… and lots of points to ponder!

  8. Shirley Showalter
    | Reply

    I loved these videos also. Makes me want to join the monarch club. Someone in my neighborhood must be nurturing the butterflies. I see many of them every day.

    The instinct for self-preservation is strong in every species. Unfortunately, when groups lose trust in their institutions, they lose trust in each other also, and in the end the instinct for self-preservation may become self-destruction.
    Shirley Showalter recently posted…The Return Stage of Pilgrimage: Reflecting on Celtic SpiritualityMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Shirley. I saw none for the first many years here, though we have acres of milkweed around us. One of my neighbor hays and I think many eggs and caterpillars were list in that. It’s been a real joy to follow their progress and learn about their cycle at the same time. I hope you’ll join our merry little band. Thanks for stopping; it was great to have you here again.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our Inner MonarchMy Profile

  9. Carol Taylor
    | Reply

    Great videos, fascinating to watch …Man ..Survival of the fittest springs to mind and of course there will always be the leaders of the pack who seem not to have a conscience just the will to survive and flourish as they will… No TV how wonderful …

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks Carol. Curious to me how those in power have a different view of what survival actually means.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our Inner MonarchMy Profile

  10. Ally Bean
    | Reply

    I’ve tried growing milkweed here in our backyard, but it has not been a success. I adore the idea of fostering a caterpillar until it becomes a butterfly. We see Monarch butterflies around our roses and butterfly bushes, so they’ve found us. Maybe next summer will be the year in which I get the milkweed to take root.
    Ally Bean recently posted…The One About The Broken Bowls & The Price You Have To PayMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I hope so. I can’t imagine not having milkweed. My son plants his around the base of his mailbox. Mine seems to spring up inside my strawberry bed — not good for the strawberries at all.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our Inner MonarchMy Profile

  11. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Hi Janet, coming around late again this week, but am glad I finally caught up. I like the parallel you’ve drawn regarding animal and human instinct, and I think it’s a good one. Funny, but I was just thinking about this this morning — i.e., in terms of what many might call the white male patriarchy — in particular, why (beyond what I would consider rational) so many seem so hellbent on maintaining it at any cost, and why they feel so threatened by the possibility of losing it. Is it nothing more than some primitive instinct to preserve power, no matter what? It seems true across many movements, and repeats itself over and over. Yes, rationality can overcome irrational instincts, I think, but doing so on a mass scale feels like attempting to dig a hole to the center of the Earth sometimes.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You got it, Tim. As you always do. I’ve got no data on any of this, just a gut sense that they were in survival mode. Instinct to the fore. Very troubling.

      Tomorrow I promise something lighter. A celebration in fact. Come back soon. And also know the door here is always open. I used to have a stone on my bookshelf that read “If you’re there before it’s over, you’re on time.”
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our Inner MonarchMy Profile

  12. Pamela S. Wight
    | Reply

    My guy and I share our work office space, and this morning as the sun slowly rose through our window, we watched the miracle of the caterpillar/butterfly thanks to your son’s excellent videos. We both got chills – SO MANY AMAZING THINGS happening right outside our window, and truly, inside our homes when love exists.
    But I don’t see any love in the “room of justice” where cameras whirled (or more succinctly the room/building/town of power). No beauty there, just instinct to survive with power over others. May those cocoons of denial at some point burst open to find the light, and the beauty of what’s truly inside. Please.
    Pamela S. Wight recently posted…Marshmallow SuspenseMy Profile

  13. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    I echo your thoughtful sentiment, Pam. But not with baited breath. That was a beautiful metaphor. Mine? Not so elegant. This next election is looking more like a game of tug o’ war — which side will have the higher number doing the pulling/voting. Time will tell. I’m more and more convinced this is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.

    I’m glad you both enjoyed Dave’s videos. I must find a way to show off his stills sometime.
    Janet Givens recently posted…Happy Anniversary, WoodyMy Profile

  14. Janet Morrison
    | Reply

    Simply beautiful! Thank you for sharing those videos.

    I have a soft spot in my heart for Monarch butterflies. One year while I was a student at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, they migrated by the hundreds through the campus as they made their way through the Appalachian Mountains. What a sight to behold!

    Here in our yard we had a large patch of wild butterfly weed. It grew bigger by the year. I took pictures of the Monarch caterpillars munching on the plants — I think it was five years ago. The next year, Duke Energy sprayed them with poison because they were under a power line. I was furious because the power line was 21 feet high and the vegetation never would have interfered with the line. Finally, this year, a few of the plants have come back and bloomed a little.

    Thank you for what you’re doing to save the Monarchs!

    Regarding your questions about rationality. I think your comment about the Justice Kavanaugh hearings was spot on. Those men acted on self preservation and the fear that someday women might take their rightful place in the US. It won’t happen in their lifetimes if they have anything to do about it. I suppose it’s human nature to make decisions based on our fears of the unknown. I hate to see our society acting out of fear on so many levels today. I never thought I’d see it.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hello Janet. Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts. Yes; “I thought I’d never see it in my lifetime” has become an all too frequent response for those in our generation. But it’s our generation that is setting policy now, such as it is. My faith is in the youngsters. I trust they’ll learn their lessons well.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Happy Anniversary, WoodyMy Profile

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