Journey's First Day And Blackbirds
Journey's First Day And Blackbirds
Not long after leaving Orangeville Falls, Beaucup demonstrated the art of soaring for the butterflies around him. These butterflies shared the technique with butterflies around them. Those butterflies shared it with the ones around them. And so on. Once again, their network of communication helped them dearly, as chattering monarchs spread the technique far and wide. Everywhere butterflies circled atop wondrous thermals. With a tinge of pride, Beaucup watched the orange and black pinwheels move across the sky.
Elsa, flying alongside him, said,“Good thing you figured this one out, Beau. We probably couldn't make it to Mexico without it. How did you figure it out?”
“Could you be more brief ?” suggested Walter.
“Walter, stop flying around Lenny!” suggested Beaucup.
“I resent that, El Capitan,” said Lenny.
Ernie chimed in, “I think we could make it without soaring.”
Which prompted Lenny to reply, “Oh, really! You might want to sharpen your toolset there ol' buddy. We change direction every half second as if we're not sure which way to go.”
“And what's that supposed to mean, Lenny?” asked Ernie.
“We can't fly in a straight line!” he screamed back.
Beaucup left their argument and descended through the sky to see how other monarchs were doing. He came upon Molly who was struggling with her flying. He thought she had seemed preoccupied when he demonstrated the art of soaring.
“Molly, you have to stop flying and start soaring.”
She looked puzzled. “Stop flying! Stop flying and fall to the ground. Are you already tired of my company, Beau?”
“No, I said stop flying and start soaring. Follow me.”
As the two rose to a higher altitude, he said to her, “You see that hawk flying in circles.” She nodded. “He's moving on the warm air rising from the ground.”
“And?” said Molly.
“Well, that column of air is moving south, so if you circle on top of it, the column of air carries you. It's like a free ride. Go ahead, try it."
Molly quit fluttering her wings and plummeted though the air. Her voice trailed off as she said, “Beau … are you sure about this?” All of a sudden, a warm pocket of air reversed the dangerous direction and her face lit up with excitement. Soon, she was circling on top of her first thermal. “Whee!” she exclaimed, holding up her wings as if riding a roller coaster. Beau grinned from a distance.
His grin vanished when he saw the hawk he pointed out to Molly flying straight for him. Beaucup fast discovered that as novice leader he had much to learn about the migration.Might the hawk devour him? Might a hawk look upon meek and mild monarchs as appetizers in the sky? Certainly not! Too small. But what if the hawk swallowed hundreds of them? Could this prevent him from diving to earth to satisfy his hunger? After all, he too was going south and needed to consider time. The hawk was fast approaching. Then, as quickly as Beaucup's grin disappeared, it returned.
“Henry!” said the relieved monarch.
“My little countryman, so high in the sky, and with all your compadres!”
“Yes, and look how many have learned to soar, Henry!”
“I noticed,” said the Hawk. “Very impressive.”
“Oh, by the way. Do you all ever think of us as appetizers?”
“No worries on that front, my little countryman. You guys are poisonous. Almost all us predators aware of that. Well, would like to visit longer but have to keep moving. Spent too much time in a white spruce by a peaceful lake this morning.” As Henry flew away Beaucup heard him singing, “Catch a thermal and your ridin' on top of the world.”
An hour later, the sun dropped toward the horizon and painted their first beautiful sunset in the west. Scout flew up alongside Beaucup and said, “Looks like the end of our first day.”
“Yes, and a successful one at that, Scout. Thousands of monarchs learned to soar today. Now everyone's looking forward to some good nectar. Finish off the first day right for us.”
She flew ahead and discovered several fields of sunflowers and dandelions. She reported back to Beaucup.
“Any luck?” he asked.
Smiling, she replied, “Goldmine!”
“Come on, come on,” said Beau, gesturing with his legs for more.
“Fields of bright-petaled flowers as far as the ol' bug-eye can see.”
Beaucup issued an order for the monarchs to follow Scout's direction. This made Dawner a little jealous as they usually followed his lead, but he did not have time to think about it. He was busy marking the sun's position and mapping out their direction for the next day. Soon, the butterflies landed on the fields and straw-like mouths uncoiled from under heads and dipped into the flowers. After a long day's flight, the sweet nectar tasted like spring honey. Beaucup and Molly shared a dandelion.
“Dawner says,” and he sipped some nectar, “we traveled,” and he sipped some more.
“Beau, finish your nectar first!” said Molly.
“Sorry.” He enjoyed three more sips.
“Dawner says we traveled around forty miles today.” He turned and met Molly's eyes before continuing, “That's a fair distance with the late start.”
“Why are you looking at me?”
“My, this is good nectar,” Beau shouted out to Scout who dined a few flowers away. “Excellent location for our first stop!”
The Chief Scout smiled.
As dusk turned into darkness, most of the butterflies ascended into trees to fall asleep. Beau, Molly, Lenny, Dawner, and Sam the Storyteller remained atop the flowers in the field. The light of a full moon low on the horizon reflected off their eyes.
“I can't sleep,” complained Dawner.
“It would probably help if you had eyelids,” said Lenny.
“Lenny, must you always be so negative?” asked Molly.
Dawner continued, “Why did you have to say that, Lenny. Now I can't stop thinking about eyelids. I need eyelids! Hey, we all need eyelids! How do we sleep when we're always looking at something?
“Pretend you're looking at the back of an eyelid,” said Molly.
All the butterflies laughed and Dawner exclaimed, “Molly made a funny!”
“It's just the nectar. It will wear off in a little while,” explained Beaucup.
They rested in silence until Dawner asked, “Anyone have a ghost story?”
The only sound came from chirping crickets in the distance.
“Sam, you awake?” asked Beaucup.
After more silence, Sam began in his usual low, unhurried voice:
"Once upon a time in a field far away, a group of butterflies rested two feet above the ground. Content with nectar in their
tummies and the scent of wild chamomile in the air, they admired a yellow moon low on the horizon, the biggest moon they'd ever
seen. But, all of a sudden, the moon disappeared. The butterflies were now in the shadow of a raccoon who stood three feet tall
on his hind legs. The raccoon rubbed his paws together as if preparing for hors d'oevres before his main course of squirrel.”
Sam glanced left and then right. Everyone had left. He flew up to the nearest oak tree and rejoined them. High above the possibility of a raccoon's appetite, they all fell fast asleep.
Two days later, taking advantage of excellent tailwinds, the monarchs had traveled sixty miles when Beau sensed a weariness in his troops. As he was to address this with Scout, something caught the corner of his eye. A large duck passed by and sitting on its back was none other than the Prankster. Eddie, who had wrapped his goggles around the duck's neck to shield the wind, lay back into his wings as if they were pillows and held up his head with two of his legs. He gazed over at the struggling monarchs and said, “Losers!”
“Brother!” exclaimed Scout.
Then Beau heard something on his right. A group of butterflies were flying in V formation and singing in taunting na-nana-na-nah fashion, “We're more efficient! We're more efficient!”
In all this commotion, no one heard the faint sound of the prop plane. But when it drew nearer and Beau looked back, he became furious. “I gave specific instructions, Baron. The only purpose for that plane was to carry a banner!”
“Oh,” said the O&B Baron.
As Beau shook his head in frustration, the Baron whispered something to the others around him. When Beau looked there way again, the plane was not only still in tact but now carried a banner. The banner read: 'Losers!' Beaucup looked to the heavens and said, “Why this generation?” Then he said to Scout, “I think we better stop for a while.”
Scout flew ahead and located an enormous grove of northern red oaks. After reporting back, Beaucup instructed the monarchs to again follow her lead. After reaching the grove, Beau, Scout, and ten thousand butterflies landed in one of the trees. Now that they were settled in, taking valuable time from progressing south, it was imperative nothing hinder their rest. But Beaucup spotted a problem. Blackbirds! Two hundred of them. Blackbirds and butterflies can coexist on the same tree, but here's the rub: if one blackbird flies away — wham! — all blackbirds fly away. And if all blackbirds fly away, all butterflies in that tree do as well. This would be followed by ten thousand butterflies from the next tree, and so on down the line.
"Did you notice the blackbirds?” he asked Scout.
“No,” she answered sheepishly.
“Next time, please do!” Beaucup instructed, sternly.
Wearing a half-smile Scout said, “Remember our first stop? … Wasn't that something?”
Beau looked at the top of the tree and noticed one blackbird slightly flap his wings. “No,” he whispered, hoping this to be the extent of the bird's movement. Seconds later, the bird fluttered his wings again, this time a little longer and a little louder. “No, please stop.” The blackbird flew away and the entire domino effect ensued. The monarchs were back on a path for Mexico.
A few minutes later, Beau glided up alongside Scout. “Hey, I'm sorry I spoke to you that way. It was wrong.” Scout smiled and accepted his apology. He realized she had no way of understanding blackbird behavior, being her first time in a tree with them. But the beauty of the migration is that one learns from their experience so it should not happen again. And there was beauty in Beaucup becoming a better leader. Owning up to a mistake garners more respect from your troops than a thousand acts of valor.
No one complained about the five-minute rest. They traveled another twenty miles before settling in for the night, and a good night's rest they would need. The next day would bring the first major obstacle of the journey — one that would prove most shocking to the little creatures.