The Grail Bug

It was a good day in the garden. Saw a pickerel frog last night, saw a bunch of dragonflies this morning (none of which I can ID–what was the bright green one with the black bands on the tail? I can’t find it in the lists of North Carolina dragonflies. Who are those gigantic throwback-to-the-dinosaurs dragonflies cruising over the garden ten feet up?) only one of which held still long enough to photograph, nearly stepped on our local ruby-throated hummingbird, who is obsessed with my Texas sage, and then, just as I had ganked my knee trying to get a shot of a katydid nymph, I saw…it.

It was a monarch butterfly.

I didn’t know whether to squeal like a little girl or burst into tears (also possibly like a little girl) because we’ve never had one of those in the yard before. They’re in the area, but our yard was never of interest to them. And they’re like the holy grail of wildlife gardening…they’re one of those bugs that many of us suspect in our heart of hearts we’re gonna lose–they’re so specialized, and the chain of events that keeps them going is so bizarre and fragile–but there’s this tantalizing possibility that if all the gardeners pull together and plant the right plants–and nobody messes with the groves where they winter–we can form this network and make it work.

First I had to make sure it was really a monarch, not one of the mimics. I stalked it with the grace of an injured water buffalo, and finally managed to get close enough to see the harlequin spots covering the body before it took off again. I made squee noises again.

So the monarch flitted around the garden, and I chased after it with the camera. It landed on the Texas sage “Dark Dancer” and spent some time hanging from one of the red flowers (I vowed to plant ten more. No, twenty.) then transferred to the sundrops, which were also interesting (I vowed to extend the bed out two feet in every direction and plant nothing but Texas sage and sundrops.) shunned the pink petunia (I shun you as well, accursed annual!) inspected the daisy fleabane (when the revolution comes, you will be spared, fleabane) and finally spent a little time on the damp gravel driveway, inspecting the puddling possibilities (there will be no asphalt on my watch!)

I never did get my photo–it whirled away into the trees. I hope it’ll be back. My milkweed stand isn’t enough yet to host a caterpillar, but it will be someday. Check back, monarch! Send your grandkids! You’ll always be welcome!

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