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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

The Journey Continues

Updated: Jun 11, 2021


I was a young girl once, wrapped in innocence and surrounded by fields that boasted a colorful array of wildflowers and swaying, tall grasses. At a very early age, I knew that these flowers and the beautiful pollinators that buzzed industriously from blossom to blossom were indeed gifts. I was told of the powerful meaning of one particular winged beauty, the Monarch. My aunt, a woman in my family who was proud of our Abenaki heritage, grew steadily amongst the proud branches of my patriarchal family tree and was the one to pass along this information. She told us that the spirit of those who have departed from their Earthwalk return to us on the wings of the Monarch butterfly. Whenever you see a Monarch, it is wise to remain still and take in their magnificence and grace, be mindful of where you are in life, and be grateful. If you linger in that moment, you will allow the memories of your loved ones to illuminate, and although they are no longer in the physical world, they live on through infinite love.

Together we went to the edge of the fields and gardens, where there was a large milkweed patch. “It is vital to preserve the milkweed, as the Monarch cannot survive without it,” she said. “This is where they lay their eggs, ensuring future generations.” My sisters and I listened carefully to my aunt’s wisdom. We anticipated the Monarchs’ return each year and watched them dance in the fields, finding their way to the milkweed. Witnessing their life cycle became an experience that defined the seasons of life itself, validating and reclaiming our own place in the wild. Back home in a small town on the other side of the White Mountains, we carried with us the knowing, for it was imprinted within, incapable of being lost. There were seemingly endless, bright flowers growing freely, healthy green woods, and fresh, clean water sources, all teeming with an abundance of pollinators. A time came when I had children of my own. I passed on the wisdom of the Abenaki and the spiritual meaning of the Monarch, which is not only a part of our ancient culture but many others throughout the world. Together, my children and I awaited their arrival and celebrated when the new ones hatched, flitting about on the riotous blossoms that grew in our imperfect, untamed habitat. After the loss of my father, I was in a place of sadness and mourning, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a fluttering of orange and black. Tears of sorrow transformed into gladness and reassurance when I turned to see a Monarch perched upon a red clover blossom. I remembered my aunt's words as I watched its wings open and close, open and close. I returned to the quaint town of my childhood. Very little had changed. The first thing that I noticed upon my return was that I knew the Earth and that the Earth remembered me as well. I am a wildcrafter. I consider a lawnmower to be a weapon of mass destruction. I mow select pathways around and through the uncultivated growth in the fields where I live. There is a respectable patch of milkweed next to the flowers and berries that meet the woods. Many of the plants are medicinal and beauteous. It is a haven for pollinators.

We live our lives expecting and anticipating the miracles of nature to come and go with the passing seasons. Some celebrate, observe, and even make a lifetime career working in science and nature. Others carry on without care or awareness, missing the beauty and necessity of coexistence in a web of various communities of living organisms. And then, some are aware of harmful practices that destroy life and already fragile ecosystems but turn away from the devastating consequences. Two summers ago, I was completely taken aback when I did not see even one Monarch or caterpillar. We had a fair number of other butterflies and moths but no Monarchs. I felt deep melancholy after I checked each day. I went onto a website that tracks the migratory routes of the Monarchs and confirmed that they did not reach this part of New Hampshire. It was impossible to accept. I relied on the belief that they would always be present. It did not occur to me that they would ever be in grave danger of disappearing. This was a call to action. It became imperative to engage in a dialogue about what we must do. Several resources and organizations provide guidance and assistance on how we, as individuals, can responsibly and effectively promote the preservation of this species and halt the decline of their population. Late last summer, I was ecstatic when I spotted one lone Monarch butterfly in the clover field. I followed it with my camera in hand. I felt that somehow by capturing it on film, I could save it in my own way. There was desperation clouding that moment. I couldn’t bring myself to walk away. A mixture of relief, appreciation, and concern washed over me. Again, I asked myself, “What can I do to help?”

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