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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Gerstenberger

Butterflies Are Us

Every time I see a butterfly, I’m reminded of my sister Ann who passed away from Ovarian Cancer in 2010. Ann was a naturalist who love the outdoors. Plants, animals, hiking and experiencing nature in any way possible, were all passions of hers. The day of her memorial service I saw some butterflies in the church garden where her ashes are interred, and I felt her presence. That feeling has never left me.

Last week while attending a family wedding on the west coast I came across the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove, CA, a small town nestled between Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea. The sanctuary exists as one of the few places in North America where the Monarch return to annually for their winter migration. Monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains migrate to locations on the central California coast. Monarchs east of the Rockies spend their winters in the high mountains of central Mexico. En route, they may travel as far as 2,000 miles, covering one hundred miles per day, and flying as high as 10,000 feet. A mighty achievement for such a seemingly fragile insect!

What makes this migration so unique is that in many migrating species, such as birds and whales, the same individuals travel the migration route year after year.

In contrast, most monarchs live only 2 to 6 weeks with the exception being the last generation each year with can live up to 8 or 9 months, which means that most of the migrating monarchs have never been to their winter destination before.

This week my family heads to the Jersey Shore, the sanctuary that we’ve migrated to for over seventy years. Our migration always coincides with my mother’s birthday in early August. This year we will celebrate her 95th year as she is now the matriarch of our family clan. We have a birthday party/family reunion planned at a local watering hole which will attract more than 30 members of our family from as far away as California, Arizona, Florida and New England.

Thanks to COVID, and Facebook we’ll be meeting cousins in person for the first time that we never knew we had. For the youngest members of our family this will be the first time they’ve been to one of these gatherings and the first time for people to meet them.

Of course, there will be many people missing. Some members of the family will be unable to make the trip to the shore for health and/or scheduling reasons. Mom’s parents are long gone as are two of her three brothers and their wives, each a favorite aunt. Mom was widowed over 50 years ago but we still have wonderful memories of dad.

Every time I see a butterfly, I’m reminded of my sister Ann…

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