The Last Monarch
At the end of the first week in March, we’d lived through “meteorological winter”. But the day was warm, only a little, where we could shelter a bit from the winds and bask in the weak white sun that barely clears one ridge mid-day before it sinks behind another. Each day our star strives a bit higher and stays for a few more minutes. We should be seeing signs of spring, even from within our fleece and wool and mittens and multiple scarves.
I had no more had these thoughts than Ann said “Look!” It was our first butterfly of the season–an unidentified dark erratic sign of spring. But it made me look ahead at the summer to come, and wonder about the “butterfly season” of 2013. That, too, over the past summers has been erratic, but mostly showing fewer of the predominant Tiger and Spicebush swallowtails than we became accustomed to our first few warm seasons on Goose Creek.
Worst of all, last year, I saw exactly one Monarch.
I know not to project from my tiny sampling to make judgements about butterflies or bats or bees on a global scale. And yet, the microcosm along Goose Creek is a corpuscle in the greater corpus of life on Earth, and we should pay attention to the land at hand that conveys small lessons of global change.
Apparently, monarchs are not only in local decline. Their recent decline across the US has been called “ominous.” Their end-migration roosting sites in Mexico show precipitous decline. The reasons are complex: habitat loss, the effects of pesticides and herbicides, clearing field margins of milkweed, and climatic changes and forestry mis-management.
Seeing pictures of these orange-and-black insects in their millions at roost reminds me of the vast number of passenger pigeons that once congregated in enormous far-as-the-eye-can-see flocks over our valley.
Then, one day in 1914, the last passenger pigeon died in captivity, a decade or more after all natural flocks had disappeared.
Will my grandchildren one day read about the last monarch, the last goldfinch, brown bat, coyote or two-line salamander? The answer is not a confident NO.
And the greatest threat to all species going forward is climate chaos. Extinctions are occurring at a rate as much as 1000 times that of the geologically-known rates in ages past. Change, if gradual, can lead to adaptive behavioral and genetic shifts. Change, if abrupt–as CO2 increase has been–overwhelms adaptive capacities.
Fortunately, given our thumbs and our technologies and language, our species possesses greater behavioral adaptive capacities than any other. But I wouldn’t go around thinking there might not be a time, if we continue down the road we’re on, when there will not be anybody left to note the last of the species.