Attention, monarchs: Please fly south now for your winter vacation.

The migrating butterflies were extremely late and unusually reproductive this year. Migrating butterflies do not typically reproduce. Rather, they save their energy for a spring orgy in Mexico that launches the following year’s first generation of butterflies.

As October gave way to the first day of November and the hottest temperatures in history, Monarchs continued their reproductive activities–dropping eggs, hatching caterpillars and forming chrysalises up until Election Day. Scientists, citizen scientists and casual observers all wondered: what the heck is going on?

Monica Maeckle, Texas Butterfly Ranch

butterfly2The monarchs are worrying me. They are still here, yet they have so far to go. Large ones* flutter in the trees across the yard from my writer’s perch. The small new beds of milkweed along the river in the King William area are covered with them,* and caterpillars still are stripping leaves to bulk up for their conversion into flyers. They don’t seem worried at all.

caterpillarAlways have been amazed that some of these fluttering flimsy-seeming creatures fly all the way from Montreal, Canada, to Michoacán, Mexico. The caterpillar in the photo is a lucky one we spied on a friend’s patio in Queretaro last month. When he sprouts wings, he will have a much shorter journey to the monarchs’ winter haven.

But the ones on the river and outside my window need to hurry southward before a freeze heads this way. We’re not sure we can count on Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy to spring from the pages of Uncle Wiggily to patch frozen wings with marshmallow cream.

In Flight Behavior, author Barbara Kingsolver weaves a tale of climate changes confusing migrating monarchs, causing them to lose their bearings and tragically roost in Appalachia one winter.

Entomologist Dr. Ovid Byron speaking to television journalist, Tina, who says, re: global warming, “Scientists of course are in disagreement about whether this is happening and whether humans have a role.”

He replies: “The Arctic is genuinely collapsing. Scientists used to call these things the canary in the mine. What they say now is, The canary is dead. We are at the top of Niagara Falls, Tina, in a canoe. There is an image for your viewers. We got here by drifting, but we cannot turn around for a lazy paddle back when you finally stop pissing around. We have arrived at the point of an audible roar. Does it strike you as a good time to debate the existence of the falls?”

Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior

*Assuming these are monarchs and not monarch mimickers? My expertise in identifying butterflies is nonexistent.

If Sandra Cisneros lives here, can I justify the trip to San Miguel de Allende?

Keynote speaker Barbara Kingsolver and an intensive writing workshop led by C.M. Mayo drew my daughter Kate and me to the San Miguel International Writers’ Conference this past February.   The conference sessions were so great, we did not even skip out once to wander the streets of San Miguel de Allende.  Given the allure of San Miguel, that’s amazing; although a visit a few months earlier helped keep us focused.   

As I walked past Sandra Cisneros‘ house on the river this morning, I thought:  Can I really justify traveling all the way to San Miguel to hear keynote talks by someone who lives right here in San Antonio?    

I think the answer is a definite maybe.  A five-day concentrated dose of writing workshops is an incredible experience.    

Plus, the writers’ conference is to blame for this blog.  I am hoping they are planning on prescribing an antidote, a session on how to keep prolific blogging from interfering with working on your novel.   

Note Added:  Button Boxes   

Exploring Sandra Cisneros’ website led me to her memories of  button boxes.  Never figured out what happened to Nana’s button tins. I wanted to inherit them so badly.  They were magical.  Seemed to contain buttons from two generations back.  Buttons so complex to assemble that there is no wonder there were buttonmaker unions.  I’d sit for hours creating button collages in her sewing room overlooking the giant fig tree in the backyard; yet, to this day, have absolutely no interest in replacing a commonplace button on a shirt.   

Aunt Billie
Marilyn Lanfear's "Aunt Billie"


Note Added on September 11:  Which, in turn, led me to the consummate button artist, San Antonio Art League’s Artist of the Year – Marilyn Lanfear.  She is being honored with an exhibit opening on Sunday, September 12, from 3 to 5 p.m.   

“Billie Patterson Moore died in the school explosion in New London TX”   

by Marilyn Lanfear

Mother-of-pearl and bone buttons on linen,
2005-07, 54” x 95.25”

Update on October 20:  Read about Marilyn Lanfear’s exhibit at Glasstire

Update on November 29:  Marilyn Lanfear’s exhibit, “What Is Lost; What Is Found; What Is Remembered,” opens at Blue Star on Thursday, December 9.   She refers to herself as “a storyteller” who creates:

a visual language that depends on and invites elaboration. I want the viewers to have associative memories and make my history into theirs.

Barbara Kingsolver: Resolve To Never Recant

Student, student, keep mouth shut and brain spry
Your best friend Dick Merriwell’s employed by the F.B.I.

“Little Ballad for Americans – 1954″ by Edwin Rolfe, as quoted by Walter Kalaidjian

Who used to lie with his love

In the glade, far from the battlesector,

Now lies embraced by a lie-detector

And can not, dare not, move.

“Collected 259″ by Edwin Rolfe, as quoted by Walter Kalaidjian

In Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, the rather apolitical Harrison Shepherd finds himself summoned by the Dies Committee, the House on Un-American Activities Committee.  Before McCarthyism became the way of the land, Time described the committee’s actions:

But the Committee’s cumulative findings suggested that Chairman Dies’s perpetually scandalized method of listening to everybody, hauling in back-fence radical gossip, old shoes, scandals, guesses and wild charges, was perhaps the best method of building up the picture of the elusive world of U. S. Communism.

“National Affairs: No Dies,”  Time, October 23,1939

During the San Miguel Writers Conference, Kingsolver revealed how closely she related to the persecution of intellectuals during the McCarthy era.  She said the hatemail Shepherd received in the novel was based – sometimes word for word – on actual letters she received after attempting to write soothing words to help heal the nation after 9/11.

An example of her ”inflammatory” work follows:

And because my wise husband put a hand on my arm and said, “You can’t let hateful people steal the flag from us.”  He didn’t mean terrorists, he meant Americans. Like the man in a city near us who went on a rampage crying “I’m an American” as he shot at foreign-born neighbors, killing a gentle Sikh man in a turban and terrifying every brown-skinned person I know….

It’s a fact of our culture that the loudest mouths get the most airplay, and the loudmouths are saying now that in times of crisis it is treasonous to question our leaders…. 

It occurs to me that my patriotic duty is to recapture my flag from the men now waving it in the name of jingoism and censorship.

And Our Flag Was Still There,” Barbara Kingsolver, San Francisco Chronicle, September 25, 2001

This column in the San Francisco Chronicle helped Kingsolver merit ranking No. 73 on Bernard Goldberg’s list of 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America – trailing the late Senator Ted Kennedy, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Former President Jimmy Carter, Dan Rather and former Vice President Al Gore – and attracted the attention of venom-spewing “patriots” whose threats made her fear for the safety of her family.

Bill Moyers, who ranked above her at 34 on Goldberg’s list, interviewed Kingsolver in 2002.  Kingsolver said:

…a lot of us have found ourselves asking, how do we get through this without becoming embittered, without becoming intolerant and angry and hostile. In short, without becoming what we hate most. I think that if we become as intolerant and angry and violent as those who have attacked us we’ve lost everything.

Barbara Kingsolver, Interviewed by Bill Moyers, May 24, 2002

And, a preview of the role Harrison Shepherd would play in The Lacuna:

What a writer can do, what a fiction writer or a poet or an essay writer can do is re-engage people with their own humanity. Fiction and essays can create empathy for the theoretical stranger.  

When you—I think this is particularly true of fiction. When you pick up a novel from the bed side table, you put down your own life at the same time and you become another person for the duration.

And so you live that person’s life and you understand in a way that you don’t learn from reading a newspaper what it’s like to live a life that’s completely different from yours. And when you put that book down, you’re changed. You have…you have something more expansive in your heart than you began with.

Barbara Kingsolver, Interviewed by Bill Moyers, May 24, 2002