Author, advertising and
publishing consultant, former
editor of Chicago and other
magazines, former creative
director of Campbell-Ewald and
other advertising agencies. For
more information, click here. Or
see Who's Who in America or
Consulting editor, historian, poet
and author of several books. For
more information, click here or
BLOGS and GLOBS: I have
been writing a blog since 1966,
only I didn't know it. In those
days, it came out in the form of a
newsletter on paper. Remember
paper? It never got lost in
cyberspace, although if it got wet
enough blog turned into glob. I
called it The Uncommentator,
and tried to make it amusing. To
read some of my favorites, see
Recent Books by the Frisbies.
Good Deed Weed
October, 2010--As summer wound down, I was pleased to see that my milkweed patch had flourished. Milkweed is not really a "weed." I had sent away for the seeds and planted them a year ago to encourage monarch butterflies.
A few years ago in early September, my wife and I were sailing on Lake Michigan a couple of miles off Waukegan, Ill., when we encountered a migrating flock of monarchs. Following several stormy days, we were enjoying a perfect day for sailing, with a steady breeze from the northeast and a moderate swell left over from the storms.
I donít think I have much in common with Captain Bligh, portrayed as a monster (perhaps unfairly, historians say) in Mutiny on the Bounty. But for some reason my wife has seldom agreed over the years to sail with me. I really wouldnít have clapped her in irons. On this occasion, she was glad she had come.
We were suddenly enveloped in a cloud of monarchs like a snowfall with orange and black flakes. Some of them clung to the rigging for a rest, their wings fluttering like miniature pennants adorning the ship for a festival. When I fished out a few who fell in the water, they took right off and fell back in. Well, there are people as well as insects that you canít help, no matter what.
There were hundreds, perhaps thousands, who rode the breeze past us for about 20 minutes, as I recall. I learned later that this sight was even more unusual than I realized. Monarchs donít ordinarily migrate in such large groups. Apparently, somewhere over in Michigan the monarchs had taken cover from the bad weather. Then, a perfect day provided a steady tail wind to take them across 70 miles or more of open water on their way to Mexico, so they all took off at once.
The migrating butterflies continued on to the mountains of Mexico to spend the winter in the monarch version of a winter resort. In February and March, they lay eggs in milkweed patches and die, having lived far longer than most other insects. Then their children and grandchildren complete the trip back to the upper Midwest. The fourth generation returns to Mexico the next fall without ever having been there before.
Capt. Bligh navigated a comparable distance in an open boat with loyal crewmen after the mutiny with only a sextant and a watch. Scientists recently discovered that a monarch uses its antennae to navigate by tracking the angle of the sun. The researcher compared the monarchís "antennal clock...to a standalone global positioning system."
Thatís better than a sextant, which isnít useful on land, where the terrain usually blocks a view of the horizon. But for all their navigational skill, no monarchs were able to find my milkweed patch this year.