An Eerie Sight and a Terrible Thunderstorm.
An Eerie Sight and a Terrible Thunderstorm
Blessed with blue sky above and brisk wind from behind, the monarchs flew at a twenty-mile-per-hour clip over checkerboard fields of yellow and brown. Feeling a sense of serenity between sky and earth, many reflected on the beauty of migration. But fast as the blink of an eye, the pleasantries of pastoral flight ended. Miles of butterflies stretched out across the sky skidded to a long, silent halt.
“Where'd the land go?” said Lenny.
Gazing into the horizon — as far as anyone could see — they could see only water.
Before taking on this most unusual circumstance, Dawner noticed how the butterflies had almost approached a level of flying stationary and he shouted out, “Hey, only hummingbirds can do that!” The butterflies looked below and panicked. A flurry of flapping wings and frantic screams accompanied their descent to the oak and tulip trees that lined the north shore of Lake Erie. Settled in, they paused to ponder this most unusual situation. Scout advised Beaucup it was only a lake and all would be fine. Passing the word left and right, the message spread from tree to tree in both directions.
After hearing the news Ernie commented to Walter, “That's one big lake.”
“No, that's one great lake,” said Walter.
Even though Scout had told Beau everything would be fine, she knew it might not be the case. After landing on the tulip tree branch where he was perched, she said, “We have a dangerous situation here.”
“Oh, no, Scout ... you said everything would be fine … no bad news right now, please.”
She continued. “I did not want to alarm the others around us. Panic can make a monarch frantic and set him off toward the Atlantic.” Beaucup listened quietly, impressed by Scout's rhyming ability. She bluntly concluded, “I'm afraid if the wind changes and comes from the south, we won’t make it.”
“What do you mean not make it? If the wind changes from the south, well, we'll just return to shore and wait.”
“Not possible,” said Dawner, who had landed on the branch to join their conversation.
“And why not?” asked Beaucup.
“Once the migration begins, a monarch never backtracks.”
“Even when facing death?”
“Correct, El Capitan. He'll struggle along until he collapses.”
“Why, that's the stupidest thing I've — ”
“Let me help with the dynamics of our brain,” interrupted Lenny, who had joined in as well. After a pause, he screamed, “It's the size of a pinhead!”
“Another great confidence-builder from Lenny!” Beaucup was agitated. “Look, if the wind changes, then we'll wait it out on boats. Yes, we'll wait it out on the boats,” and he said this excitedly, proud of the solution that had surfaced in his mind. “But make sure everyone knows not too many monarchs on any one boat. There has to be even distribution, even distribution or disaster.” For several minutes, this message of even distribution or disaster passed from tree to tree, but by the time it reached the final tree the butterflies were confused. No one understood what Levon wished confusion for his master meant.
After flying for an hour, strong winds arose from the south and confirmed their worst fears. Following the orders of Beaucup's flight briefing at their Orangeville departure, that is, fly low into the winds, butterflies descended toward the lake. However, as they neared white-crested waves, they realized the danger of choppy waters. So the monarchs furiously flapped their wings to ascend, but only moved upwards slightly and then back. Plan B went into motion. The butterflies began landing on vessels strewn across the great lake. All was going well until too many were landing on a boat named the Carol Ann B. As Beaucup watched the boat turn into an orange float, he hollered anxiously, “Hey, even distribution down there!” The Carol Ann B sank a few inches. Even after it sank more, the butterflies continued to land unaware of any danger. They sensed danger, though, with the thunderous pounding that came from inside the cabin. Little hearts thumped faster.
Without warning the little cabin door swung open and out stepped the captain. Seeing his boat covered in orange and black, he shouted, “Away with you, mighty monarchs!” As the butterflies frantically flew off, the captain bellowed with laughter. Then, in the shadow of a coiled-up rope, he noticed the one monarch who remained. His eyes were covered with one of his wings and he was shivering. The captain picked him up, placed him in the palm of his hand, and said, “Aye, little mate, are we not heading south?” The frightened butterfly lifted his wing, saw the captain's huge bearded face, and quickly covered up again. The captain blew a puff of air toward the palm of his hand, and the little monarch headed south again.
About that time the winds shifted back from the north, and the monarchs continued their sixty-mile trek across the great lake. After reaching the southern shore of Erie, the migration produced the loudest noise of the entire journey: the collective sound of twenty million butterflies asleep on the ground lightly snoring.
Several uneventful days passed as they crossed over Ohio and Indiana. However, on their first day in Illinois, they again encountered strong headwinds. After attempting to fly low to the ground, the monarchs attached themselves to the nearest tree. Edith and Ellie landed on a branch and waited for the wind's direction to change. Both appeared bored, even as they clutched a tree that leaned with a strong gust of wind.
“We could be here for hours,” said Edith.
“For as long as it takes,” replied Ellie. “How 'bout a game of twenty questions.”
The wind blew Edith's wing up which covered her mouth. “Bring it on, honey,” she said in a muffled voice.
Ellie thought for a while and said, “MB.”
“Male or female?” asked Edith.
“You know the rules. Only yes-no questions.”
“Layup,” said Edith.
Two branches above, Walter and Eddie were conversing. A bare limb stretched across to another tree and the Prankster made a proposal: “I bet if I give you a good spin, Walter, you can't walk across that limb without falling off.”
“Bet I can.”
Eddie grabbed one of Walter's antennae and spun him so hard he turned into an orange and black top. After stopping, Walter started across the limb. He wobbled left and he wobbled right but made it to the other side. Then Eddie flew over and landed beside him. They faced the opposite direction and the winds were from their back.
“I stand corrected, Walter. Excellent balance. Hey, the winds changed from the north again. We can fly again.”
A dizzy and confused Walter replied, “You're right. Let's press on.”
As Walter headed north, Eddie and his devious smile remained on the branch. When Walter passed over the water tower that had an eagle painted on top, the same one they had flown over not long before, he reversed direction and returned to the tree branch. No one was there, the Prankster having departed for another location.
Beaucup concentrated on branches bending in various directions and asked Dawner, “What's your take on it?”
“Winds are variable now, but I expect them to shift back from the north soon.”
Dawner was correct. Shortly thereafter, the butterflies resumed their southwesterly track for Mexico.
Other than occasional headwinds, the monarchs enjoyed another long run of relatively easy days, until they reached the hills of Missouri. Flying beneath bright cotton clouds everything seemed calm and then they saw it in the distance. Menacing dark sky. A strong thunderstorm is the monarchs worst enemy; one drop of rain can end their life.
“Look at the size of it,” Beaucup said to Dawner. The storm stretched across the sky for hundreds of miles. “Is it possible to go around?”
“I'm afraid not, Beau. Too large.”
As they entered the shadow of the storm, the afternoon grew so dark, dusk arrived at an earlier time. Scout hurried to find cover. She returned with good news, a forest filled with oak and hickory trees. Everyone trailed Scout (except Dawner who purposely flew a few feet ahead) and as they descended toward the trees, flashes of lightning followed by booming thunder frightened the little creatures. Big pellets of rain began to fall and one by one they found refuge on the underside of leaves.
Molly flew up to a branch and noticed one leaf open. Another frail butterfly looking for shelter flew up alongside her. As Molly pointed with one of her six legs at the leaf she said to the helpless girl, “Fly under there.” As the grateful butterfly attached herself to the leaf's underside, a large pellet off rain struck Molly's back. The downward spiral began. Falling faster and faster toward a large puddle, she knew the end was near. She quit looking below so she would not see the forest floor move close and closer. Then everything slowed down. Molly saw herself meeting Beau at Clover Leaf Pond and then how he showed her the art of soaring and then how he lead the monarchs across the great body of water. She looked back down and everything sped up. The ice-cold puddle loomed as large as Lake Erie. Three feet ... two feet … and then, when only inches away, Molly felt herself being scooped up, flown through the air, and deposited under a leaf.
“Maybe next time, you'll listen!” Beau said emphatically (referring to the look out for yourself in order to survive). Are you all right?"
“Yes ... thank you, Beau ... thank you so much ... I wanted to tell you something so badly and I didn't think I would ever be able to ... and thank you Beau ... thank you so much.” While Molly spoke, Beau had been busy dodging big drops of rain. He flew off to find his own shelter. Molly watched him safely reach cover, feeling half-embarrassed, half-proud.
The butterflies, shivering in the icy cold, cringed against the flashes of light and claps of thunder throughout the night. But they were safe under the leaves. When the night ended and they gazed below, pools of water and broken limbs were scattered across the ground. Many of their orange and black comrades floated in the silent pools of water.
Beaucup glanced over at Molly and she nodded her head. He nodded back.
Above, crystal blue sky beckoned another day's flight.