Back in the 90’s I found myself living in a slum of an apartment on a cliff overlooking the beach just north of Santa Barbara. The weather was always about 76 degrees and a billion fit blond people were jogging, surfing, or partying on 3 streets every day of the week. It was the most densely populated area west of the Mississippi and it was virtually all 20 year olds. Nobody ever left those 3 streets. You’d have a hard time convincing a friend to walk more than a block to the next street. With a party at every house, why walk 3 blocks away?
I joined a woodland fire crew for a summer and the physical demands were significant, so I started training up in the nearby mountains. What started as just an effort to get fit enough to not die in the face of a fire, grew into something else. It got me really interested in life outside of a laugh and a good buzz. I became enamored with nature for the first time in my life. I’d fill a backpack with rocks and grab a buddy and hike and run up into canyons and climb as high as we could before heading down to a series of waterfalls where you could jump or slide down 3 of them consecutively into the pools below. It was pretty magical.
I learned more and more about the natural beauty of the area around us and after driving distances to all sorts of incredible hiking trails, became amazed to find out that if I would just step out my front door, turn left, and walk 20 minutes up a trail along the cliffs, that I would end up in a eucalyptus grove. In the winter time, this grove would serve as refuge for countless monarch butterflies. My mind was blown. Just a 20 minute walk from tens of thousands of people and when I first arrived…nobody was there.
Me, 3 friends, and what seemed like a hundred thousand monarchs gathered in the leaves of the trees. It was completely quiet except for the fluttering of countless sets of wings. Flapping, breathing, fluttering, resting. Our jaws dropped. How the? What the? Why the?
We didn’t know anything. We had no knowledge of anything. There were no kiosks, signs, or rangers. We had no phones, and nobody owned a computer.
We had just heard a rumor. And that made it infinitely more special. I’m grateful to have lived in a time absent of constant connection to information. It left more space for wonder and this was one of the biggest wonders I had the good fortune of stumbling upon in my life. We just soaked it in gobsmacked with awe.
We all have phones and internet now, so many of you probably know this, but what we didn’t know was that the amazing migratory Monarch butterfly does its annual migration in 3-4 generations (great grandma starts the journey, but great granddaughter is the one to finish!) to overwintering sites in warm climates until winter passes and they reverse the journey and head back north.
Sadly, these awe inspiring creatures were just moved to the endangered species list. One of the most impactful natural scenes I’ve had the good fortune to witness in my life is now at risk of disappearing from earth.
You can help by planting milkweed seeds (we’ll be offering them in our store soon and currently we are giving away a free pack to anyone who buys 5 packs of any seeds from us (Shop our seeds!), but here’s another way you can get some for free! Do note...please avoid Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). It can both halt their migration and breed diseases in the population, so it's a big no no.
This plant is the food for their caterpillars and is required along the length of the journey from North to South, then back again. Another great reason not to spray and kill everything in your garden. These monarch caterpillars will destroy your milkweed. That’s okay! You are planting it so that they can eat it, grow big, get strong, form a chrysalis, become a miracle by completely dissolving from a big caterpillar into a sack of fluid and then somehow reforming their cells from a liquid into a beautiful winged magical fairy of a creature and then flying away to continue the next leg of the journey, only to lay their eggs on someone else’s milkweed plants hundreds of miles away to feed the next generation. Just unbelievable. Not to mention, the milkweed is what imparts protection to the monarchs! It has alkaloids that give the monarchs superpowers. They don’t mind the chemical, but it’s a poison to would be predators, so they in turn don’t eat the monarchs. Just fascinating and you can help for free!! Here’s that link again!
So please consider planting some and letting them grow up to get demolished by caterpillars, so that this magic can continue. And don’t forget to get off the beaten path a little bit and find small moments that fill you with wonder. Turn off the phone. Forget the selfie. Just breathe it in. You can let people know about it in 20 years when you write a blog, but for now, just be in awe and be grateful.
Have a great weekend!