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.

Grazing our way through Quebec City…


This represents our final fulfillment of our pledge to record some of our restaurant experiences from our recent trip to assist other travelers who obsessively turn to the internet before mealtime. (Well, semi-recent. And only a partial fulfillment. This has been a slow process, and the memories of restaurants and meals are fading a bit.)

Our apartment was in the Vieux-Port area of Quebec City, and foot was always our mode of transportation during our stay.

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On the night of our arrival we lucked into seats at L’Échaude, a tony spot where reservations normally are a necessity. Service was extremely polished, and we enjoyed the rich flavors of a mussel and seafood soup in lobster broth and grilled seafood risotto.

Somehow we ended up in the neighborhood of Le Pain Béni in the old city twice at lunch time. The multi-course table d’hote menu represents quite a bargain and inside was relaxing after our long morning explorations. A crispy duck appetizer flavored with maple was wonderful. Maple seems to slip into the ingredients of numerous dishes in Quebec City. Among the dishes we sampled were a lobster-based risotto with fish and a flank steak with purple potatoes and carrots. The fruit salad was not a good dessert option, but the blueberry cake soaked with maple is highly recommended.

SSS, formally named Simple Snack Sympathique, is a popular, trendy spot in the port area and is a sister restaurant of Restaurant Toast. Weekday lunch seems to attract professionals rather than tourists. For lunch, I had salmon tartar with sesame seed and avocado, and the Mister ordered roasted lamb shank with gremolata and roasted vegetables. Both came with French fries, which you can exchange for salad or vegetables. But don’t. These are great fries.

A visit to the impressive National Assembly building was on our agenda, but, rather than go on the total tour, we checked out the restaurant, Le Parliamentaire. We had no reservations, but they are recommended. The Beaux Arts dining room with soaring ceiling is elegant, and service is formal. The table d’hote is not as expensive as one would expect in such surroundings, and the setting is worth experiencing.

We flunked planning ahead, and so often could not get in at the last minute for dinner at some of the popular restaurants in the old quarter. Part of the failure to make reservations was due to lack of hunger. Our long table d’hote lunches left no room for major dinners. We actually slipped into – true confession – a chain, not once, but twice, for lighter evening fare. The Piazzetta in the Old Port area is quite pleasant. The pizza is fine, but what surprised us was how good the restaurant’s main course salads are. We split a warm asparagus and prosciutto salad, which included grape tomatoes, olive and onions with balsamic vinaigrette; and a warm apple and camembert salad with croutons and pecans topped with a three-pepper maple syrup dressing.

As we neared the end of the two-week trip to Canada, I was beginning to yearn for a non-restaurant meal. The century-old farmer’s market, Marché du Vieux Port, was only about a block or two from our apartment and was filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats and fish just waiting to be relocated to our kitchen.

One more night, and I’m sure I would have cooked.


À vous de jouer: Random snapshots and superficial observations of Montréal

You fly in and plop into a setting without any logical geographical approach; obviously your impressions are superficial. So I do not pretend to delve into the distinctions between North American neighbors, Canada and the United States. This is a quick take from someone who has lived in Texas, a long way from that border, for all her adult life.

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1. How ignorant am I? Up until I climbed Mont Royal, I was clueless that was the derivation of the name of the city I was visiting.

2. Staying in the Mont Royal Plateau area, we were plunged into a land where everyone was youthful. Frequenting Southtown San Antonio, we’re accustomed to being the oldest one in a restaurant.

3. Montrealers are fit. They walk; they ride bikes; they climb stairs. While we were there, the marathon ended a few blocks from our house. We walked a lot. We were staying  in a Bermuda Triangle of metro stations, in the exact center of three stations, each probably a little more than a mile from our flat.

4. I bike-share in San Antonio all the time and threatened to make the Mister do so in Montréal. Stations are everywhere and highly used. I read the more people riding, the safer they are. It’s true car drivers are extremely alert and diligent about yielding to both pedestrians and cyclists in Montréal, but, be careful what you wish for. Although numerous, the bike lanes are crowded, particularly during rush hour. Someone like me riding would have tailgating traffic piled up behind. These people are serious commuters; they are not riding leisurely.

4. Canadians are incredibly calm and orderly drivers. No squealing brakes; no cursing; no birds shot; no screeching starts. Once in a great while, you might hear someone give an extremely slight tap to their horn.

5. Canadians have longer attention spans than I. In museums, they stop and read all the accompanying text in exhibits. They patiently sit through all related documentaries. They stay in their museums a long time. While I found the Samurai exhibit at Pointe-à-Callière interesting, I felt an unappreciative, uneducated bumpkin breezing through in contrast to the Montrealers devouring the detailed description of each warrior’s outfit.

6. The housing stock in Montréal is amazing. Miles of three-story, sturdy structures all being refurbished for young urbanites.

7. Living in a loft, I’m accustomed to hauling groceries up a floor to the kitchen. Staying in a second floor apartment in Montréal was fine. Loved the space. But my stairs are inside. Most of their stairs are wrought-iron and outside. How in the world do they manage maneuvering them when iced over in winter? Thank goodness this Texan did not have to try.

8. While I did not witness hoards attending mass, Catholicism is emphasized, if only to remind everyone this is not turf conquered by the Church of England.

9. Quebec is amazingly stubborn. French is dominant, but it has been hanging in there for a long time. The French were expelled by England more than two centuries ago.

10. My belated apologies to Dr. Wayne Reilly. I was pretty all-knowing while I was at Hollins College. Or at least I thought I was. I preferred the laid-back, liberal air of Dr. Henry Nash. I concentrated on important, real world issues; my thesis surely would resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Brought up provincially in then-little Virginia Beach, I totally dismissed Dr. Reilly’s focus on separatists in Canada. What a waste of time. When the secession vote came squeakily close in recent years, I felt my face redden in embarrassment for my attitude 40 years prior. Mea culpa.

11. You have to love a city where a piano sits on the sidewalk inviting people to play. Someone always seems to be playing, and an appreciative audience is always nearby.

To view more snapshots taken during our vacation in Montreal, visit shutterfly. The Mister shares photo credits. If a photo is taken at some wild angle, it definitely is mine. It really bothers some people, but I have this theory. People don’t always look at things geometrically straight on, so why should photos have a level point of view?

Or maybe, that’s just me. I’m the only one not pausing to see things squarely.

Maybe that explains a lot….