Planting a Seed for Conservation
February 14, 2021
Tom Gunnerson

Planting a Seed for Conservation

In my youth, my best friend and I would spend hours exploring the woods and meadows near our homes in Concord, Massachusetts, following well-worn trails and footpaths that wound through the hills and hollows. In one spot at the edge of the forest, an ancient pool of inky black water endured, protected on three sides by stonewall and surrounded by a carpet of Fan clubmoss and Bracken Fern. Every spring something magical happened there – the rebirth of the delicate pink Lady’s Slipper.

We were always amazed at the soft radiance of this orchid and thought it must be rare and have enchanting properties. We thought the same of the Monarch butterflies that were associated with the Milkweed plants that we used to play in, getting the sticky milk and then white, fluffy coma all over us. Many times we watched the caterpillars eat and grow, then pass through the chrysalis stage to become magnificent butterflies. Those were the days of innocent youth and a carefree age.

Now, five decades later near another coast, ambles through nature remain a constant that provides spiritual sustenance and perceptual clarity.

Walking down the winding path of the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary just a few weeks ago brought back the relatively recent memory of seeing large clusters of orange, black and white wings high in the trees. This day there were none. A December 7, 2020 headline from the Western Monarch Count stated “With Fewer than 2,000 Butterflies Counted So Far, Western Monarch Takes an Astonishing Step Closer to Extinction.” No monarch butterflies had reportedly been sighted although counters had been looking every week since mid-October. So it wasn’t just us.

In our small back patio we have a four station bird feeder and birdbath, four large pots planted with flowers, herbs and small vegetables and we regularly feed a stray yellow tabby cat. We get great pleasure and a certain calm from watching hummingbirds, chickadees and doves; eating fresh cherry tomatoes and thyme; and petting our furry friend. Yet in all the time living in this house, we have rarely seen a butterfly.

Maybe, through simple ignorance, we have not been good hosts to these sylvan fairies. Come to think of it, we feed the birds with seed, nectar and suet; plants with fertilizer and cat with kibble. Why not add butterfly food? Maybe we can do our small part to help this population flourish in the flora and fauna microcosm that is our backyard. The Ardenwood Historic Farm, just over two miles from our house, has (or had) the largest overwinter Monarch population in the East Bay.

With so much COVID-spawned time at home, we should buy some Milkweed and other butterfly friendly seeds and grow our own little sanctuary for the Monarchs and their brethren. The realization when we first see a butterfly alight on our new plot will be good for our souls.

Happily, the Pink Lady’s Slipper is not rare or endangered as long as there is a high level of humidity and readily available subsurface water. These are just two examples of the many natural living wonders that we live with and have control of with conservation for the precious balance of life that we all need to survive and prosper on this earth. Amen.

December 13, 2020
Tom Gunnarson

 

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