A super generation of monarchs led by their fearless leader, Beaucup, migrate to Mexico.
On a late summer morning outside Orangeville, Ontario, the red and yellow woods stood perfectly still like a magnificent oil painting. Only one movement disturbed the otherwise tranquil scene: Samuel, the resident trumpeter swan. His feathers were white as snow and his short bill black as coal. As he effortlessly moved over water which shimmered in early light, he produced a series of bugle notes. The notes echoed a joyful sound throughout the wood. Samuel was in high spirits. He felt certain the first of two miracles was about to occur; after all, he had lived in the wood many a year and witnessed many a wonder. So he gracefully lifted off and flew low to the ground until he landed beneath a certain maple tree where he looked up and waited.
All across the open woodlands that glorious morning, emerald-green chrysalises clung from branches and twigs. Not thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, but millions. Now, from one, as orange light filtered through the leaves, a leader for the next generation of monarch butterflies would emerge.
And this was the super generation that lives for nine months. During that time, these gentlest of creatures will not only migrate twenty-five hundred miles to the oyamel forests of southwestern Mexico, but also arrive to the same trees where their great-grandparents stayed. Clustered in the forests of the Michoacan mountains, they will sleep through fall and winter. Then, in early spring, the monarchs will arise to begin the journey home. After returning to the Texas Hill Country, it will be the end of the line for their nine-month mission. From there, three to four more generations will complete the return to Orangeville.
Samuel, having lived in the wood for twenty years, had learned much about the journey. Each fall when his pond began to freeze over, he too migrated south but only as far as the northern states of America. Then, after returning to Orangeville, he welcomed back the final leg of the migrations. As he visited with these monarchs, he slowly pieced together their path across America and into Mexico. Now, waiting beneath the maple tree, he looked forward to passing on this knowledge to their next leader.
Actually, Samuel first met him five weeks earlier while waddling through the wood. The swan loved to explore nature, and not only the big movements and sounds, but the smaller ones too. Just off the path, he noticed movement on a milkweed leaf. “My, my, so little,” he said, delighted to see the caterpillar hatching from his egg. The baby crawled out on his three pairs of legs and began to consume the very leaf he walked upon. Samuel marked the place and time, for his arrival was early.
“Do you know why you eat those leaves?”
“I'm sorry, let me introduce myself. I am Samuel, the Trumpeter Swan.”
The caterpillar was not sure how to respond; he had not been named. Once he had been properly named, it would remain the same as a butterfly.
“Pleased to meet you,” he replied.
“So, do you know why you eat those leaves?” the swan repeated.
“Because I'm hungry.”
“Well, yes, but also because they are poisonous.”
“I'm sorry, let me introduce myself. I am Samuel, the Trumpeter Swan.”
“You've already said that!”
“I have? Oh dear, I have. I must stop repeating myself. I must stop repeating myself.”
Then the swan said nothing. Speaking was difficult whenever he first met someone. He stumbled over his words and turned forgetful. As he gradually grew to know with whom he spoke, it became easier.
“Well, go on,” said the caterpillar.
“Poisonous leaves! Why would I eat poisonous leaves?”
“Oh, yes, poisonous leaves.” Samuel straightened up as if to confidently give a speech. He wanted to state it right. “When you are reborn as the orange and black creature you will be very fragile, unable to defend yourself, but predators will not harm you; that is, they will not make you a part of their breakfast, lunch, or dinner because it will make them ill.” The caterpillar said nothing and stared at Samuel with confusion on his little face. The swan continued, “It will make them ill because milkweed leaves are poisonous and that is all you will eat growing up. Get it?”
“First of all, what do you mean by orange and black creature? And I've just been born. How could I possibly know to eat poisonous leaves?”
Samuel, certain of the point, stated firmly, “Because it's the way you are made.”
The caterpillar began to wonder who exactly was this expert-on-all-matters. “May I ask how you know so much?”
“I have lived in the wood many a year and witnessed many a wonder.”
Unable to make heads or tails of this, he continued to consume milkweed. In fact, that is all the caterpillar 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 — a new yellow, black, and white striped coat adorned him. After the fifth and final molt though, all traces of caterpillar were gone.
Instead, a delicate chrysalis clung from the branch, the very branch Samuel waited below. And the emerald green shell might just as well have been the handkerchief of a magician. After spending ten days inside it, Mother Nature completed the illusion. The caterpillar emerged a monarch butterfly with bright orange wings that had symmetrical black veins and white patterns along their edges.
“How does he do that?” Samuel thought, not knowing exactly who he might be.
The newborn butterfly, dazed from a second birth, stumbled to the top of the branch and looked below.
“Do you believe me now?” asked the swan.
He looked at his orange and black wings. “Yes, I do.”
“And your name?”
“What name did you take?”
“Oh ... Beaucup ... but please call me Beau.”
“Then believe this, Beau. You are first and that means you are to lead your generation!”
“First? How could you possibly know that?”
“Because I have lived in the wood many a year and witnessed many a wonder.”
“Oh, that one again!”
“And second, understand what first means, that is second after what I said first, that you are first, and now what first means which I said second, that is about being born first. Make sense?"
“Maybe,” Beaucup answered, utterly confused by the statement.
Samuel was feeling more and more comfortable around this important monarch. He continued, “You will lead your generation all the way across America and into the heart of Mexico where you will roost until spring. Then you will begin the journey home. Your children and grandchildren will complete the return to Orangeville; however, they will only live three to four weeks. It is your generation that has been blessed with time. Your generation shall live to the ripe old age of nine months.”
“Mexico? What is Mexico?”
“Fly south young monarch and be amazed what you know!” Samuel stated boldly.
“I thought young monarchs were supposed to go west.”
“Do not go west,” implored the swan. “That would be disastrous!”
Above, a flock of Canada geese moved through the sky in V-formation.
“Everyone knows about them!” Samuel explained, pointing to the geese with his long white wing. “How they migrate each fall in that famous formation. You need to shake things up a bit, Beau.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, many of those geese are heading south for the ninth, tenth time. On the other hand, you and your cohorts will leave here for the first time and not only find your way to Mexico, but return to the same trees where your great-grandparents stayed. Pretty remarkable, eh? Yours is the magnificent migration, my friend!”
“But what do mean ... shake things up?”
“I don't know, choose a name for yourselves. Maybe, start there. Many know about the geese and their formation, but know little of the monarch migration.”
With that, Samuel flew away and left Beaucup to consider several things. He thought about the swan's suggestion for a name, referring to their migration as magnificent. And he wondered how he could lead millions of monarchs not only to Mexico, but to the same trees where their great-grandparents stayed. It all seemed utterly impossible. Of course, he had no way of knowing it would only be possible by overcoming several obstacles along the way. And that by doing so, completing the second miracle.