A Story About Butterflies
Monarch butterflies have a much greater commute to work than I do. True, while they don’t have jobs, they still have a duty to survive. They have done the seeming impossible and retained memories of mountains even after being reduced to soup.
I’m sure that sentence made no sense to the average person, and only slightly more sense to an entomologist.
I am not an entomologist and it only makes a little bit of sense to me.
My background is more philosophy, but the local Bug Zoo was only hiring people with biology backgrounds, so I fudged some information on my resume and here we are. By here, I mean taking a bus to work at a barely above minimum wage job using a regular flight pattern that I’ve subconsciously memorized. Which goes back to the Monarch butterfly. And green lights.
These amazing little creatures start off as caterpillars, then work themselves into a cocoon where they basically liquefy, and from this soup they reform themselves completely into a butterfly.
This butterfly then travels from Canada to Mexico, where they lay eggs at various stops. Their journey takes several generations, and the Monarch that begins the journey is not the same as the one that ends it, or returns back to Canada. The butterfly lives six to nine months, but it may have gotten only as far as Kansas. So a Monarch born on a Kansas prairie lays an egg on an Eagle Pass highway that leads to a Monarch born in an Ontario canola field. How in the world does the genetic memory get passed on through several pods of soup to arrive back in Canada?
My route is slightly less intense than that. I get off the bus and walk for twenty minutes through the downtown to get to the quaint Bug Zoo. My routine is the same, five days a week, and has become so unvaried that I barely pay attention. And I don’t have to go through any permutations in order to make my destination, or sire children, or cocoon myself in order to make my journey.
The Monarchs generally fly over Lake Superior in their journey, which is staggeringly hard for any insect to just fly across. The Monarchs don’t fly straight through, though. About halfway across the lake they make a turn Eastward for a time before turning back South. I was thinking about this when I stepped off the bus and onto the sidewalk, pausing just long enough for the person in front of me to move out of the way and into the direction I was also headed. It was automatic, I just paused knowing they would be in front of me getting off.
Biologists and certain geologists’ think that at one point Lake Superior had a mountain in it, and instead of the impossible task of flying over it, the butterflies learned to go around it and never forgot. They go halfway, instinct kicks in and they turn left, then they go south again. Just like me waiting to get off the bus, waiting for the same person to pause and turn every day.
And, just like every day, I get to the crosswalk just as it changes, causing me to stop and be left behind as other travelers finish crossing the street.
I realized that this had become so normal to me that I just stop at the corner and wait for the light. Repetition does strange things to the mind, and I became irritated that I had to wait for the light to change green. My mind, descendant of monkeys with ADHD and territorial urges, did NOT like others getting ahead of me this morning. So I vowed tomorrow that I would increase my pace and make the light.
Monarchs start their migration when the sun drops to 57 degrees above the southern horizon, unlike birds that use the weather. The whoosh of the pneumatic doors was my indicator of flight, and as I was pressed up against them I almost fell out into the street. I made a brisk pace for the crosswalk when another passenger began to outpace me. An oddly familiar passenger, even though I could not for the life of me think what their face looked like. She’s long legged, in jeans, sporting a tight red ponytail that flicks along a black leather jacket. She cuts me off and I almost trip over my feet, slowed just enough for the light to change and for me to refuse stepping out for fear of the light becoming red before I’ve crossed. I'm conditioned, forced to have an instinct that doesn't make sense. Whoever this person is, she has beaten me by several paces. The time spent waiting for the green light allows me to make a blood oath, which my ancestors will be avenged for this slight, and I WILL make the light tomorrow. Like the Monarch, I will re orient myself by the scent of the dead as I travel through the mountains.
(Oh, some entomologists believe that Monarchs guide their passage through the Mexico Mountains by recognizing the scent of their dead ancestors. I don’t think that, because butterflies don’t have fatty acids that would decompose for over a year. I’m into philosophy, but I’ve still seen a few episodes of CSI).
I'm at the last day of my travels, Friday, the weekend, and this time I am again at the bus doors waiting for them to open. They do and I’m off. I’m ahead. I’m winning.
And I notice movement in my peripheral.
It’s the red ponytail, flicking across a leather jacket. I glance to my left and there she is, running backwards. I can’t believe it! I was ahead of her, I was ahead and now she’s running backwards to cut me off for the crosswalk.
“I’ve been winning for four months now. I’m not going to break my streak. See you Monday.” She half stops in front of me, the shock causing me to stop in my tracks, and she turns and makes it across the street while I watch as the light changes.
This weekend I will study wasps.
I will be ready for Monday.
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