Column: Nature’s miracle in FarmingtonLast Sunday I witnessed a miracle. A small one, but a miracle nonetheless.
By: Mary Lebens, The Farmington Independent
Last Sunday I witnessed a miracle. A small one, but a miracle nonetheless. My husband and the dog trotted out onto the back patio so the dog could take care of a bit of business in the yard. My dog is quite the businessman, doing small “deals” that I clean up after several times a day. So when my husband called for me, I assumed he probably needed a plastic bag for clean-up.
When I arrived outside, bag in hand, he pointed at the patch of lilies at the edge of the patio. The most brilliantly ochre and midnight black monarch perched on the leaf of a lily. The butterfly tentatively opened his velvet wings, then sat still in the warm afternoon sun. His wings were still drying. As we stood, transfixed, he gently, slowly stretched his wings, then refolded them, again and again. Even the dog was still as we watched the monarch.
The genesis of a monarch is one of nature’s true miracles. They start off as a milky egg laid on a milkweed leaf. A chubby black and yellow striped caterpillar hatches from the egg, and starts eating the leaf. Toxins from the milkweed build up in the caterpillar’s body as it grows, so the butterfly it eventually becomes is capable of warding off predators with its poisonous body. After only two weeks, the caterpillar stores enough fat and nutrients to create a chrysalis. The caterpillar spins a silk pad on the milkweed leaf, hangs from it by his last pair of legs, and begins to evolve into the smooth, iridescent green case of the chrysalis.
For two weeks the caterpillar slowly metamorphoses into a butterfly. This is the real miracle of the monarch, that it somehow rearranges its entire exoskeleton to become a different animal. Finally the chrysalis splits, and a butterfly climbs out, wings still wet. The monarch waits patiently for a day or so before the wings are dry enough to fly.
Last week a pair of friends stayed with us from Phoenix. They marveled at the wildlife in Farmington. In particular, they were fascinated with the squirrels. I’m so busy dodging squirrels with my car and trying to keep my dog from chasing them that I forgot they can be really quite cute. My friends wondered at a little frog that somehow made its way from the pond behind my house to the patio. I realized I’ve started to take the frogs for granted too, so comfortable and ordinary is their throaty singing and their nighttime visits.
I wish my friends had been here one day longer to see the monarch. Unfortunately, they flew away on Saturday, heading back to Phoenix a day before the monarch took its inaugural flight. But they gave me a new perspective on the wonder of wildlife in Farmington, the visiting frogs and playful squirrels. Farmington’s abundance of natural spots is unique. I can’t imagine there are many places where you can fall asleep to a chorus of frogs and wake to miracle of a monarch. Spotting the freshly hatched monarch, and renewing my wonder in the natural world, is truly a Farmington miracle.