For Newtown and the twenty monarch butterflies that surely touched down on the Day of the Little Angels.
To the wondrous journey that has God's hand written all over it.
The Mighty Monarchs
by Brian Kies
On a late summer morning outside the village of Orangeville, Ontario, the first of two miracles had nearly completed. Sunrise painted the woods in an orangish hue; a thin mist floated over the meadow; the two-note song of a trumpeter swan filled the air; and breaking free from the protective shell he had been inside for ten days, Beaucup was busy being born for a second time.
Five weeks earlier he had been through this routine. Then, he emerged as a tiny caterpillar from the egg his mother laid on a milkweed leaf. She laid the egg there because milkweed is the only food monarch caterpillars eat. After wriggling out on his three pairs of legs, he began to consume leaf after leaf; in fact, that is all Beaucup did for three weeks He grew so fast, he shed his skin four times like a boy outgrowing his clothes. Each time the old skin came off, there underneath was the yellow, black, and white striped skin always fitting like a brand-new coat. After the three weeks, he had become a rather plump caterpillar.
When the fifth and final molt occurred, all traces of the caterpillar were gone. In its place, clinging to the underside of a branch, the pale-green shell or chrysalis from which he presently broke through. It might as well have been the handkerchief of a magician. When Mother Nature completed the illusion, Beaucup reemerged a completely different creature: a delicate butterfly with bright orange and black-veined wings that had white markings along their edges.
A few hours later after his wings hardened, he soared through the air for the first time. Then thousands upon thousands lifted off from the trees looking more like orange leaves in a gentle breeze than butterflies. And even though a quarter-million monarchs were born within a second of Beaucup-he was first-and this made him the leader of their migration to the South.
This was that special generation which lives to the ripe old age of nine months as they travel from Canada across America and into Mexico to escape the cold air of winter. Their children and grandchildren, who make the return journey, will only live two to six weeks, but the super generation is blessed with time. Time will enable them to fly over twenty-five hundred miles to the oyamel fir trees high in the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico and roost there over winter-returning to the exact same trees where their ancestors stayed. That would be the second miracle.
Beaucup instinctively felt the urgency of the mission and considered his first order of business, delivering the annual Speech of Departure-a tradition dating back thousands of years. He framed the speech into three sections: introduce his special appointees for the migration, go over a few major details, and end with the boldest proposal ever proposed by a monarch leader. He let them practice flying for a few days, then sent out word for all to assemble the next morning below Orangefield Falls.
As the sun rose and warmed their wings, the butterflies gathered at the base of the waterfall. The Orangefield River descended over the ridge and bisected the large field into perfect halves. After everyone was in place, the ground resembled two gigantic orange carpets. This was no ordinary group of monarchs though. They used their wings like flash cards to spell out GO on one side of the river and BEAU on the other side.
When Beaucup appeared atop the ridge (the ridge being only 10 feet high but looking like Niagara Falls to the butterflies), a roar ascended from below and some chanted Hail the King! Beau improvised on his speech and addressed the monarchs with his first words, "Please … there will be no kings on this continent." He continued, "I would like to first introduce my special appointees for the migration. Lenny, please step forward."
Beau selected Lenny as his Right-Wing Man because he had been born right next to him. And even though Lenny questioned most of the ideas Beau expressed along the journey, he never wavered in his choice, having been born right next to him. "By the power vested in me by those who … vest powers … I hereby declare you to be my Right-Wing Man." A roar of approval arose from the crowd, and Lenny momentarily appeared moved by the ceremony.
Next, Beau asked for Catalina to step forward. Somewhat shy, she inched her way up along his side. "Catalina, I hereby name you Chief Scout, but request moving forward, that you go by Scout. Your duties will consist of flying ahead to report back any danger (there were instant murmurings from below: danger … who said anything of danger … what does he mean, danger?); that is, I mean to report back any minor problems ( okay … we can handle minor problems … right ... yeah, we're okay with minor problems) and to find appropriate places for resting. Another roar from the crowd and Catalina, too, appeared moved by the ceremony.
Finally, he called upon Dawner. The opposite demeanor of Catalina, Dawner boldly stepped forward to a point not beside Beaucup, but rather to a point one foot ahead of him. "My good friend, seeing as we've known each other for three days now, I appoint you to maybe the most important post of all: Path Specialist. Even though we will sense which direction to go along the journey, a slight turn here or a slight turn there may be required of you." The monarchs seemed a little subdued after this pronouncement. They weren't so sure about someone else telling them which direction to go.
After going over some final aspects of the trip, Beaucup had reached the conclusion of his speech. He paused and then said, "I end with this: We have been the greatest migratory movement going for thousands of years, yet hardly anyone pays us the respect we deserve. I have been thinking on that and have determined we need a new name; a nickname, if you will, that gives credence to this remarkable feat. Henceforth ... moving forward ….. we will be known as ….... the Mighty Monarchs."
There was total silence until Lenny replied, "Jeez Beau, we're just butterflies. A good thunderstorm can eliminate a hundred-thousand of us."
He gave Lenny a perplexed look and gazed back at the troops. "This concludes the annual Speech of Departure. Are there any questions?"
A low buzz started up and quickly grew louder as thousands of butterflies consulted among each other until the deafening noise stopped and he heard from below, "Why is this place called Orangefield Falls?"
Beaucup looked at the falls, which emptied into the river, which cut across the orange field. He turned to his assistants and said, "What have we gotten ourselves into?" Then he exclaimed, "It is time to begin the journey."
"We have a problem with that," said Scout.
"What do you mean a problem?"
"One butterfly insists she's not going."
A look of astonishment came over Beaucup and he stated in a loud voice, "Not going! ... Not going! ... There's no NOT GOING in monarch migration!" Then he quietly asked, "What's her name and where is she?"
"Her name is Molly and I last saw her fishing at Clover Pond."
* * *
Near the oyamel forest in Mexico, there is a small village by the name of Angangueo and on its outskirts, a small cemetery. At the same time Beau delivered his speech, a short dark-haired woman by the name of Maria Prado stood alongside one of the graves. She held a simple bouquet of flowers.
Nine months earlier, María experienced the worst day of her life. She had made breakfast for her family and walked into her boy's room to wake him up. "Breakfast is ready, José," she said standing just inside the door. As she returned to the kitchen, the six-year-old child did not move. José was a remarkable child, full of energy and wonder, but ever since birth he had different health issues off and on. As of late, he had been very tired. María began serving up plates and after the others entered the kitchen, she called out for him a second time. Another minute passed and she returned to the room. Her husband, Miguel, instructed their three daughters to wait for prayer. Miguel's heart sank when he heard María scream. He hurried into the room and found her slumped over by the bed weeping. José had passed away overnight and that morning began the long mournful process for the Prado family. They agonized over it for months with María making several trips to the Inmaculada Concepcion church to consult with Father Padilla.
On her very first visit Father Padilla had said, "José is now in God's hands."
"He was always in God's hands," whispered Maria.
She leaned over and placed the bouquet upon his grave. Maria had come to much better terms with her son being gone, but an important matter remained to ensure his soul was doing fine-the return of the monarch butterflies. The Prados, like many families in Mexico, think of the butterflies as the souls of their departed loved ones. It is important they arrive by November 1, which begins the Day of the Dead celebration. On November 1 or All Saints' Day-also known as the Day of the Little Angels-the spirits of the departed children return for twenty-four hours. On November 2 or All Souls' Day, the spirits of the departed adults do the same. This year it was especially important the monarchs arrive by November 1. Miguel walked up alongside María and they said a prayer for it to be so.
* * *
Flying above the red and yellow dotted countryside, Beaucup spotted Molly on a bank of Clover Pond. He slowly descended, landed beside her, and asked, "Any luck with the fishing?"
Sensing the purpose of his visit she replied, "No, but I have plenty of time."
"Molly, you are a monarch and migration is what we do: it is our past, our present, and our future. There is no choice involved in it." Looking concerned, he added, "Besides, if you stay here you will freeze to death!"
"Well, I don't have to go all the way to Mexico to avoid the cold! I understand Florida is a nice place."
Beaucup did not immediately respond as the comment took him by surprise. Then he said, "Florida … maybe in your eighth or ninth month, but surely not until then." Molly missed the humor. He continued, "Seriously … there must be a reason why we go to Mexico-perhaps something we cannot understand."
"If we don't understand it, then why do it!"
"Because we are made that way," Beaucup asserted. "Molly, I like the way you think. I need monarchs like you on the migration. Please fly over to Orangefield Falls within the hour." He said this not only as a way to ensure she join the group, but because he did like Molly and hoped they would make the journey together. She said nothing as he ascended and slowly disappeared from her sight.
After returning to Orangefield Falls, Beau appeared restless. He was leading twenty million butterflies from his outfit, but understood four other groups across Canada and the northeastern United States were also preparing to leave. They would merge in Texas, and the timing of their departures was crucial for the merger. He gave one final piece of advice: "Look out for yourself in order to survive!", then turned to Dawner for the takeoff command. Right at that moment, Molly touched down on the ridge. Beau smiled and repeated for her the look out for yourself in order to survive! She nodded to him in agreement. He again turned to Dawner who proceeded to exclaim, "To the South ... and beyond!"
Not a single butterfly budged. Lenny leaned over and said, "Dawner … that's sort of been taken."
Slightly embarrassed, the Path Specialist said in a quieter voice, "I see ... well then … to the South and Mexico!"
Dawner lifted off and set a southwestern direction, but after flying for a few minutes, he was the sole Monarch on a path toward their destination. Behind him there was total chaos as millions of butterflies kept running into each other trying to take off. Observing from the ridge, Beau repeated, "What have we gotten ourselves into?" After sorting it out, they assumed a spectacular flying formation above the autumn landscape: Dawner in the lead, followed by Beaucup and Molly, then Lenny and Scout, and the twenty million butterflies casting a shadow over Canada the size of Rhode Island.
After traveling half the day, Beaucup noticed Molly struggling with her flying. He flew up alongside and said, "You have to stop flying and start soaring."
She looked puzzled. "Stop flying! …. stop flying and fall to the ground. Beau, are you already tired of my company?"
"No. I said stop flying and start soaring … follow me," and he began to ascend. As they rose to a higher altitude, he told her to watch a hawk in the distance. "You see how he circles around. He is moving on the warm air rising from the ground. As long as he does that, he barely uses his wings. It's like a free ride. Go ahead and try it."
After she stopped fluttering her wings, Molly fell and cast a doubtful eye toward Beau. Then, suddenly, she rose on the warm air, and her face lit up with excitement. "Whee!" she exclaimed, holding up her wings as if riding on a roller coaster. Beau smiled watching her from a distance.
Later that day as the sun set in the west, Scout looked for their first location to stay overnight. She found a gold mine in fields that contained thousands of colorful flowers. As butterflies, they no longer consumed milkweed; their nourishment now came from the nectar of flowers. She reported the fields to Beaucup, and he issued an order for all Mighty Monarchs to follow her direction. This made Dawner a little jealous as they always followed his lead, but he did not have much time to think about it: he was busy marking the sun's position and mapping out the next day's direction.
After the butterflies touched down, they uncoiled their straw-like mouths from under their heads and inserted them into the flowers. The sweet nectar tasted good after a long day's flight. Beaucup and Molly shared the same dandelion. He spoke of how pleased he was with their first day's progress. Dawner estimated they had traveled sixty miles, and Beau knew it to be a good distance with the late start. "Excellent location for our first stop!" he hollered out to Scout who dined a few flowers away.
Such would not be the case two days later. They had taken advantage of an excellent tailwind and traveled a fair distance-fifty miles-when Beau decided to stop for a rest. He advised Scout of this, and she located a grove of very large trees. Beau, Scout, and ten thousand butterflies descended upon one of the trees. This was a time-consuming operation, and it was imperative nothing hinder their rest. Beau immediately spotted a problem that Scout had not observed. Blackbirds! Two hundred of them. Blackbirds and butterflies can coexist on the same tree, but here's the rub: if one blackbird flies away-wham!-all two hundred fly away. This would be followed by ten thousand butterflies on the same tree, ten thousand on the next tree, and so on.
"Did you notice the blackbirds?" Beau asked Scout.
"No," she sheepishly replied.
"Next time, please do!"
Wearing a half-smile, Scout added, "Remember our first stop? … Wasn't that something?"
Beau looked at the top of the tree and noticed one blackbird slightly flap his wings. "No," he whispered, hoping it to be the extent of the bird's movement. The bird fluttered his wings again, but this time a little longer and a little louder. "No … please stop." Then the blackbird took off and the entire domino effect ensued. A few minutes later, Beau flew up alongside Scout and apologized for speaking so harshly. He realized she had no way of understanding blackbird behavior, being her first time in a tree with them. But the beautiful truth about the migration is you learn from your experiences, and so moving forward, it would not happen again.
One nice attribute of the monarchs was their adaptability. Not a single butterfly complained about the five-minute rest; they simply flew on. Beau let them travel another thirty miles before settling down for the night. And a good night's rest they would need as the next day would bring the first major obstacle of their journey-one that would prove truly shocking to the little creatures.
* * *
Inside her small adobe house, María began to prepare the altar for the Day of the Dead celebration. They build the altar to honor and to remember departed loved ones. Candles and incense are placed upon it to help guide their spirits home, and it is a joyful time for two reasons: the departed are in a safer place and they return home for twenty-four hours. María began preparing earlier than usual this year, as this altar would light the way for her little boy. She opened a small, wooden drawer and pulled out a white tablecloth; it would cover the table in their home's largest room. She brought out several empty milk crates from the closet; these would stack up on the table and hold items such as the foods José enjoyed and some of his toys. María walked into the kitchen, opened the cupboard, and pulled out a small cigar box from the top shelf. Inside the cigar box were the white candles they use during the celebration. It is tradition to burn one candle for each departed relative. For the last few years they had used two candles-one for María's grandmother and one for Miguel's father. She slowly removed three candles from the box and placed it back in the cupboard.
* * *
The next morning after flying for an hour, millions of monarchs skidded to a silent halt.
"Where'd the land go?" asked Lenny.
From the trees along the shoreline, the butterflies looked out and pondered this unusual situation. Across the horizon-as far as they could see-they could only see water. Dawner and Scout passed the word it was just a lake and all would be fine.
One monarch commented, "That's a big lake."
The monarch next to him replied, "No, that's a great lake."
Even though Dawner had said everything would be fine, he knew it to not exactly be the case. He landed alongside Beau and said, "We have a dangerous situation here. If the wind changes from the south, we probably won't make it."
"Then we'll fly with the wind back to shore and wait."
"We won't be able to do that."
"What do you mean, we won't be able to do that?"
"Once the migration begins, monarchs never backtrack."
"Even when facing death?"
"Correct. We'll just struggle along until we collapse and fall."
"Why, that's the stupidest thing I'v-"
"Beau, do you understand the dynamics of our brain?" Lenny chirped in. "Let me help you. It's the size of a pinhead!"
"Well, if it changes, then we wait it out on the boats," said Beau. "Yes … we'll wait it out on the boats. But tell everyone there has to be even distribution-even distribution or disaster." For several minutes, even distribution or disaster passed from tree to tree; however, by the time it reached the last tree, it had turned into Levon wished confusion for his master.
After flying for an hour, their fears came true as a strong wind rose up from the south. The little butterflies furiously flapped their wings but could only move a little upwards and then back. Observing from above, Beau watched as they started touching down on scattered vessels strewn across the great water. All was going well until he noticed too many landing on the Carol Ann B.
"Even distribution!" he hollered out in earnest, as they transformed the boat into an orange float. Suddenly, the boat sank a half an inch. Even after it sank another inch, the butterflies were oblivious to it. They were not oblivious though to the thundering sound they heard from inside the cabin, and their little hearts thumped faster.
It was the captain who, after ascending the short steps up and out the door, bellowed, "Away with you, monarchs!" He found amusement in watching thousands of butterflies frantically fly away. Then the captain noticed in the shadow of a coiled-up rope the one butterfly that remained. His wings were over his head and he was shivering. The captain picked him up, placed him in the palm of his hand, and said, "Aye little mate, are we not bound for the South too?" The frightened butterfly slowly lifted his wing to see the captain's huge, bearded face and quickly covered up again. The captain blew a puff of air toward the palm of his hand, and the little monarch was back on his way. Just about that time, the winds shifted back from the north and they continued across the sixty-mile wide lake. After reaching the southern shore of Erie, they made the loudest noise of the entire journey. It was the collective sound of twenty million butterflies as they lay upon the ground and lightly snored.
Several days passed, and all went well as they crossed over Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. The only unusual matter that occurred was the one morning twenty monarchs approached from the east. They explained they were lost and inquired if they could join the group.
"Where do you hail from?" asked Beaucup.
"Connecticut," one replied.
Beau then said, "We are all family, join in."
The string of uneventful days changed in the Ozarks of Missouri when the butterflies encountered their first serious thunderstorm. The clouds had formed quickly and the sky grew so dark, it gave the day the appearance of night. Scout searched for safe cover. They were in luck; she located the edge of a forest filled with hundreds of large oaks and red-leaved maple trees. A strong thunderstorm is actually a monarch's worst enemy: one drop of rain can end its life at any time. As they descended upon the forest, quick flashes of lightning accompanied by booming thunder frightened the little creatures. Big pellets of rain began to fall all around them, as one by one they landed on the underside of leaves. Molly flew up to a branch and found a single leaf unoccupied. She then noticed a frail butterfly with no shelter to fly under.
Molly looked at the helpless girl and said, "Here, fly under here," as she pointed to the leaf with one of her six legs. While the grateful butterfly attached herself to the underside of the leaf, a huge pellet of rain struck Molly. She began spiraling toward the ground. Falling faster and faster, she made out a large puddle below and knew the end was near. She tried not to look down as she moved closer to the forest floor. Then, amazingly, everything slowed down and she saw Beau talking with her at Clover Pond and learning how to soar and crossing the great body of water. She looked back down and everything sped up; she was only three feet away from the ice-cold puddle that looked as large as Lake Erie. Then two feet. Then one foot. One inch away and Molly suddenly felt wings scoop her up and deposit her safely under a leaf.
"Maybe you'll listen next time!" Beau said emphatically referring to the look out for yourself in order to survive, as he flew away to find his own shelter. Molly watched him reach cover feeling slightly embarrassed, slightly proud.
The next day, after flying for a couple of hours, Beaucup decided to give the troops a day off. He did this for two reasons: they were nearing the halfway point, as reported by Dawner, and because of the storm. Nearing a mid-sized town of backyard paradises (swimming pools, fountains, hedges, gardens); he passed the word for all to relax and enjoy the day, but to be careful.
"There are dangers down there," he warned.
Twenty minutes later, they were scattered out among hundreds of neighborhood lawns: resting on fountains, enjoying nectar, exploring the hedges and gardens. Beau escorted Molly to the prized chair-a floating hibiscus flower in a swimming pool. Hundreds of butterflies shared bright-petaled flowers with bumblebees and hummingbirds.
One of the monarchs, Boudro, rested on a green hedge and admired the statue of a large, white cat. He had been admiring it for a good while, wondering how the sculptor made it look so real. Poor Boudro was not quite as observant as the other butterflies. When the huge white paw swatted at him, he understood why it looked so real and escaped just in the nick of time.
Later that afternoon, another monarch by the name of Maggie would not be so lucky. Beau had noticed the spider web earlier in the day and as she headed straight for it he hollered, "Look out, Maggie!" but it was too late. Once in a spider web, there was nothing to be done. The spider simply rolled up its victim and dragged it away. This made the monarchs very sad, and Beau decided to move on before they saw the spider do this. The butterflies flew a couple of more hours before stopping for the night.
Sometimes a sad day can be followed by a good day. Flying higher than usual the next morning, the butterflies took advantage of a fifty-mile-per-hour tailwind and traveled two hundred and fifty miles reaching the southern border of Missouri.
Several days passed as they crossed over the mountains of western Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma and into the prairies of Texas-their gateway to Mexico. In a few more days, somewhere over the center of the state, the five groups would merge into an enormous flyway. It would be a proud moment for every monarch butterfly.
One afternoon, still over the prairies of northern Texas, Beaucup saw Scout flying toward him at a speed he had not seen before. She was out of breath and frantically exclaimed, "Beau, we have to act fast. There's a crop duster up ahead, and we're heading straight for him." There had been rumors of these low-flying machines and Scout was unusually perceptive as to their danger; she had shared it with Beau. He remained calm. He always remained calm in the face of a crisis.
"How wide is the field?"
"About a mile."
Beau instructed her to assemble Lenny, Molly, and Dawner near the northern edge of the field and for each to bring enough volunteers to stretch a quarter-mile. They formed a line, and with each pointing their four wings up and shouting, "Fly high!", the plan worked beautifully as thousands of butterflies rose up over the field and the crop duster. After a few minutes in which no others passed, Beau signaled for the mile-long line to move on. It happened just in time; the plane was approaching the northern edge of the field. While ascending, Molly looked back down and saw three more monarchs straggling along. She thought of returning to warn them about the crop duster but looked over at Beau and continued to fly safely across the field.
As she glided up alongside him, Molly thought he would be proud of her, as she had displayed learning her lesson. Instead, she found a butterfly wearing a very long face.
"What in the world is wrong with you, Grumpy? We just saved thousands of monarchs."
"They are killing the milkweed, Molly … they are killing our children's milkweed." She remained silent and thought to herself how Beaucup always seemed to be thinking.
* * *
It was a lovely autumn day in Angangueo; the red-tiled roofs shone brightly under a clear, blue sky. María leaned out the window and watched her daughters jump roping in the fresh air. "Please come inside," she said. The three girls walked inside and into the room where their mother waited.
"It 's time to gather the sugar cane stalks and marigold flowers." Each October they gathered sugar cane stalks to build an arch over the altar and marigolds to decorate the arch. The girls went to their room and picked up the same baskets they used each year. Just before they exited the door María said, "One moment, girls," and when they turned they saw her holding a soccer ball.
"Do you remember how much José enjoyed gathering the stalks and marigolds?"
"Yes," one of the girls answered.
"Why don't you take his soccer ball with you."
The oldest child walked over and took the ball from her mother. Leaning out the window again, María watched the three of them as they walked down the narrow street with their baskets in hand, kicking the ball among themselves.
* * *
After traveling two more days, Dawner and Scout reported they were now flanked by the other four groups. Following tradition, the butterflies descended upon the hill country of Central Texas, and the five leaders met inside the hollow of an enormous oak tree. There, they discussed a path which would lead them to the Sierra Madre Mountains. Generations of butterflies had followed the Sierra Madres to their destination near Angangueo.
Just before the meeting adjourned, Bingo, the leader of the eastern group, turned to Beaucup and asked, "There are rumors your group has taken on a name. We hear … the Mighty Monarchs. Is this true?"
Beau cautiously looked at the other four as if in trouble and replied, "Yes."
"Then I submit a motion that our united groups so be named, and that your outfit, Beaucup of Orangeville, take the lead on the final leg of our journey. Do I have five ayes on this motion?"
There were four strong ayes and then Beau, moved by the proposal and slow to react, softly said, "Aye." The butterflies shook legs and returned to their groups to go over the flight plan.
Beau found Dawner and asked, "How well do you handle pressure?"
Dawner extended a wing, and it was perfectly still as if to say-I can handle anything-then stated, "Pressure is not in my vocabulary, sir!"
"Good. You are now leading over two-hundred-million butterflies." Dawner's wing began to quiver.
A few days later, after crossing into Mexico, Beau and Molly flew side by side enjoying the cool weather. As they discussed why Lenny always seemed to be so negative, the two rose up over a hill and there they were in all their glory.
"The Sierra Madres have never looked better!" exclaimed Beau.
Molly gave him a puzzled look and said, "Beau, this is the first time you're seeing the Sierra Madres!" He returned the puzzled look, and she added, "Oh, I forgot. It's the way we're made."
* * *
Morning clouds had settled into the valley of Angangueo, and there was a mist in the air as María approached Inmaculada Concepcion. She ascended the steps and opened the large wooden door which creaked loudly. As she walked beneath the dark wooden arches that supported the high ceiling, her footsteps were the only sound in the empty church. María felt extremely anxious as it was October 31 and there had been no sightings of the monarchs. She entered Father Padilla's office.
"Good morning, Father,"
"Good morning, Maria. How are you?"
"Not so good, Father. You know how important it is that the butterflies arrive by tomorrow, and there has not been a single sighting. Father, I'm sure you understand what it means to my family this year, and if they are not here by tomorrow, I don't know what I'll do." He made sure she had finished her thoughts before he responded.
"Why is it when you need your faith the most, you abandon it? Rely on your faith, María. Rely on it and the monarchs will arrive." They said a short prayer for it to be so. As she walked home, the sun broke through and the mist began to clear.
That evening as daylight faded, the Prados finished preparing the altar in their candlelit room. María placed a plateful of tamales and corn tortillas on top of a milk crate. One of the daughters put José's soccer ball inside it. Another daughter laid colored paper garlands on the altar. Miguel placed a small glass of water and a wooden platter of mangoes next to a drawing of José. The water quenches the thirst of the weary soul from its long journey home. The third daughter used leftover marigolds to make a trail from the street up the dirt path to their front door. The scent of the flowers helps lead the spirits inside. Outside, a mariachi band stopped and played before moving on to the next little house. The music drifted through the open windows. Everyone in the family now sat near the altar and told stories about José. María's favorite was the first time he played outside with his soccer ball. She began the story, and it was as if it was yesterday. She could still see him as "he slowly kicked it down the street, the ball never moving more than a foot, his head never looking up, kick after kick, down the street, straight into the cow." Everyone laughed, and then someone else told a story.
Earlier that day, the daughters had baked some pan de muertos in their wood oven. Pan de muerto is sweet bread one can easily shape into an angel or a skull or an animal. The girls had decided to make them into rabbits. María suggested they walk to the cemetery and take some marigolds and one of the pan de muertos-they placed the remaining bread on the altar.
A full moon in a cloudless sky made the pathway clearly visible for the Prados as they walked in the glow of its light. Once there, Miguel swept the area with a small broom, and the girls placed the marigolds all around the grave. Maria laid the bread on top of the headstone. She was glad her family was together, but another day had passed without any monarchs. She repeated Father Padilla's advice in her head. The family stayed for a while-Miguel told a long story about his father that made the children giggle-and they returned home.
The next day María awoke to a perfect morning. At last, after all the preparation, the Day of the Little Angels had arrived. In the early afternoon, they carried the arch to the cemetery along with a basket of food and blankets for a picnic. There were several other families gathered around gravesides, and during the course of the day they visited each other. The Prados enjoyed their picnic and María felt José's presence. But as the day approached dusk, Miguel and his daughters noticed she spoke less and less. Amparo, the youngest girl, tugged on her father's arm and asked, "Why is Mama crying?" He explained she was disappointed the monarch butterflies had not returned yet. María's face looked very sad when she said, "Let's gather our things and go home." A few minutes later, Miguel put his arm around his wife and they left.
As they walked out the little gate of the cemetery, no one noticed something descend from the fire-red sky. And María did not feel anything after it touched down upon her shoulder. It was only when Molly flew up and landed on María's nose that her eyes opened wide as overcoat buttons. Then Molly flew a few inches away and gestured for her to look up. In the distance, María saw the butterflies, first hundreds of them, then thousands upon thousands as they approached their winter home. Father Padilla had been right. She continued to cry, but now they were tears of joy. Amparo walked over and hugged her mother's waist. Then, the other girls did the same, and as the five of them stood there, gazing into the most beautiful orange sky they had ever seen, María whispered, "José … we love you!"
* * *
For the next few days, millions of monarchs streamed in and landed on the fir trees as the damp, chilly forest gave up its dark greens and browns to orange and black. Beau looked around and could sense the elation of reaching their destination. That is, everyone except Lenny. He had to complain about all the fluttering and trying to nap. (It was simply amazing what Lenny could complain about; millions of fluttering butterfly wings reached the level of a soft rain.) The hundred-foot tall fir trees were now completely covered by the monarchs as they clustered together to stay warm. When the sun broke through, the trees became circular towers of stained glass standing on the church of nature. Occasionally, some would fly off, explore for a little while, and then return to the trees. This went on for a few days until all of them fell asleep except for one. Beaucup reflected on everything that had occurred along the journey. Then he looked around at the sleeping miracle and closed his eyes, too.
One evening, two months later, a light snow began to fall. No harm came to the butterflies as the trees formed a thick canopy and protected them from the snow.
Two months later, Beau opened his eyes. It took him a half an hour to shake off the grogginess. Now came the most difficult part of the trip; how to convince his outfit they had to fly back to Texas. For the time being, he did not have to worry about it. It would be a few more days before everyone woke up.
When that day arrived, Beau gave a second Speech of Departure; however, it was much more informal. He explained that with spring just around the corner the humans needed to gather their crops, but they would not do so until the butterflies departed. This seemed to work as millions of monarchs nodded in agreement saying things like "that makes sense" and "humans, what would they do without us." Within a few hours, they were on their way back to Texas, but once there it would be a different story as far as continuing north.
After they glided over the Rio Grande River and into an area known as The Valley, all were in good spirits as this was their second time to the region. They had rested there before crossing over into Mexico. It was the butterflies' favorite location; the temperatures were always moderate, and the fertile soil produced an exquisite variety of flowers. Because of this, it was here where the talk started up of not traveling any further north. Nothing about this was new; it had occurred on previous migrations. If it did not turn into an outright rebellion, it came close to it. Of course, Lenny had to begin the second-guessing by exclaiming, "It's like paradise here. Why in the world would we return to Canada? I say we stay!" However, it was Lenny's pal, Jon, who, being very compassionate, concerned Beau the most. If anyone could ignite a rebellion, it was Jon Pal Jon-as Lenny called him. Beau knew how to handle the situation though. He advised Dawner, Molly, Scout, and Lenny to start flying north, and he sternly advised Lenny not to say a word. As they flew away, the butterflies acted as if it did not matter, but their eyes began to dart left and right to see if anyone else was leaving. They began to panic and thought what are we doing-we can't stay here, but just like waiting for another student in class to ask the question, they needed to see someone else fly away. Jon Pal Jon flew off to go speak with Lenny and that was it: the millions were on their way north. If there was one trait Beau understood about monarchs, it was that they needed their leaders.
A few days later, Beau saw Scout flying toward him. He became a little sentimental as he realized this might be the last time she rushed up to him with news. He was very proud of Catalina; she had done an outstanding job. This time she gave the same message he had heard at least a dozen times on the journey.
"Major problem, Beau. Major highway up ahead."
This one frustrated him more than anything else on the trip. For the final time he exclaimed, "I tell them to fly high, but nooooh, they always fly low! Fly high, for gosh sake, fly high!" This time he added, "Think crop duster!"
Lenny added, "Think dynamics Beau ... brain the size of a pinhead! … think dynamics."
A few days later, the butterflies were again over Central Texas, but this time it was the end of their journey: the little creatures were plain worn out. They could be extremely proud of their accomplishments and had certainly lived up to their name. The female butterflies deposited their eggs on milkweed leaves, and the next generation would continue north.
Beaucup and Molly found a beautiful peach tree for their final resting place. They lay on their backs, side by side, among the fragrant pink blossoms which covered the branches.
Molly looked at Beau and asked, "Do you think the children will turn out okay?"
"They will go through their changes but, yes, I think they will do just fine."
There was silence and after noticing how tired he looked, Molly whispered, "Beau, you were right. It is the way we are made." He smiled and slowly closed his eyes. As she continued to look at him, Molly somehow appeared happy and sad at the same time. She reflected on their journey together and knew in her heart, there could have been no other butterfly for her migration. Then she gazed deep into the heart of the blue sky above, and closed hers too.
After the eggs hatched, the children grew up very fast. They traveled for a little over a month and made it as far north as Ohio. Once there, the females deposited their eggs, and it was this offspring that completed the return to Canada. As these butterflies soared over Orangefield Falls, they were unaware of the generation that began the migration; the migration which had now come full circle. Even though the echoes of their grandparents swelled the grounds: Beau's Speech of Departure, Molly's refusal to go, the antics of the millions as they assembled into the shape of two orange carpets-they could not hear them. These monarchs had also done an outstanding job, only on a smaller scale. After a few days, millions of eggs had been deposited on milkweed leaves, the seasonal clock continued to tick, and on a late summer morning outside the village of Orangeville, Ontario: sunrise painted the woods in an orangish hue; a thin mist floated over the meadow; the two-note song of a trumpeter swan filled the air; and breaking free from the protective shell she had been inside for ten days, Abbey was busy being born for a second time.
* * *
After Molly awoke, she turned and saw Beau, but they were no longer in a peach tree. They were in a place that resembled The Valley, and he was sipping through a straw from a tiny cup. She looked around in wonder and then saw the straw in front of her.
"Care for some blueberry milk?"
"Are we in the valley?" asked Molly.
"Sort of ? … What kind of answer is that? … How long can we stay here?"
A grin came over Beau's face and he replied, "Forever!"
"So is this…?"
Beau grinned again.
"But how can you be sure?"
"Well, for starters, Lenny has not made a negative comment since we've been here!"
With the look of wonder still upon her face Molly said, "So this is …?"
Beaucup affirmed, "It is."