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A Monarch Butterfly and Its Changing Beauty

Monarch butterfly

HAPPINESS.—A butterfly, which when pursued, seems always just beyond your grasp; but if you sit down quietly, may alight upon you. ~ “A Chapter of Definitions,” Daily Crescent, 1848 June 23rd

Years ago, I planted Swamp Milkweed in my backyard. With a name like that, it’s a wonder anyone would plant it willingly in one’s backyard, but I knew something about Swamp Milkweed. I’d read that the Monarch butterfly lays its eggs on a Swamp Milkweed plant, and I wondered if it might be true, even in a suburban backyard.

Monarch caterpillar
Monarch caterpillar

 

What transpired that summer was beyond my expectations. Even my boys, then all very young and curious about the mysterious plant that would attract the great orange butterflies. We checked the plant often, even after the modest pink blossoms appeared and passed. Then all at once, it seemed we had 5 yellow and black striped caterpillars. Monarch caterpillars!

A Monarch Butterfly and Its Changing Beauty

My oldest son checked the caterpillars morning, noon, and night, until one day he discovered only 3 caterpillars remained. Then two, and then horrifically, one.

With quick research, we figured out how to bring the remaining caterpillar into the house. We supplied it with fresh leaves until it became so engorged it could hardly move. Then the yellow and black caterpillar began strange moves. We all saw it happen–over the course of ten minutes, the caterpillar hung from the top of the stick inside its habitat, dropped while hanging from one end of its body, and began moves that I can only describe as the hula.

Monarch caterpillar transforming
Monarch caterpillar transforming

At the end of its dance, a shroud of white silk enveloped it — a chrysalis.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis
Monarch butterfly chrysalis

For weeks, my boys and I watched to see what would happen. Over time, the white silk became translucent, and as suddenly as the caterpillar spun its transformational chrysalis, one morning as the sun rose, the chrysalis split into two pieces. A black caterpillar-like body clung to the stick with long black legs, and dripping wet wings hung limp from its back.

Monarch butterfly emerging from chrysalis
Monarch butterfly emerging from chrysalis

Over hours that morning, the caterpillar worked with much effort to wring the excess dampness and liquid from its body and wings. The dripping continued, until at about noon, when the sun shone highest in the sky, the new creature began to stretch. Its wings began to unfurl. Its legs climbed the stick until it poised, ready to take flight.

Monarch butterfly with chrysalis
Monarch butterfly with chrysalis

We brought the container outside. It was a beautiful, late summer day when our caterpillar-turned-butterfly took flight.

Monarch butterfly after transformation preparing to fly
Monarch butterfly after transformation preparing to fly

Its first motions into the air, when it let go of the stick, sent it twirling, flailing, almost. But within another few seconds, the butterfly found its wings and it began to make circles around us. I think the four of us erupted with celebration so loud it scared the butterfly. It landed a few times on a tree, once on one of my son’s heads, once on my shoulder. And then, it took flight, higher and higher, until it disappeared from sight.

There are many analogies that I’ve drawn inside my head from those days. I’ve always loved butterflies, deeply. But after that up-close encounter with the miracle that occurs right before our eyes, every butterfly is precious to me.

So today, on October 9 (Sunday before this posts), 2016, when my youngest son, now taller than I am, noticed a Monarch butterfly outside on our waning butterfly bush, I knew I had to grab my camera.

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly

It turns out, today’s Monarch was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. There isn’t a single mark on his wings, no scratches either. Pure miraculous beauty.

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly

And to think this month, from Ohio and all across the U.S., the Monarch butterflies are migrating to their overwintering grounds in Mexico … a long, incredible journey for creatures so delicate.

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly

Have you watched a butterfly transform? Have you seen Monarchs along their lilting migration south? One of my favorite things I look forward to every year. Enjoy!

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12 Favorite Butterfly Photographs

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on Privet

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou

Red Spotted Purple Butterfly
Red Spotted Purple Butterfly

Every year in September as the days grow shorter and the temperatures begin to fall, I become wistful for the summer. In winter, I miss the color — the greens of grass and trees, the vibrant blue skies and billowing summer storm clouds, the happy flowers smiling up at the sun, and the hummingbirds and butterflies which bring the world to life. I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’d love summer to last a bit longer …

In fall, if you take a few moments to notice, you can see the butterflies and hummingbirds taking flight. Though they all have different hibernation and migration patterns, they all journey far for the winter, especially from the northern states like where I live in Ohio.

Monarchs, the bright orange butterflies we see on flowers and in the countryside, migrate all the way to their winter home in Mexico. From Ohio, to reach the preservation in the mountains north of Mexico City, Monarchs fly about 2000 miles in the fall. It’s amazing, right?

Over a period of about an hour yesterday afternoon, I saw more than 10 monarch butterflies flying toward warmth, southwest toward the sun. They’re heading toward Mexico, where they’ll cluster in the pine and oyamel trees in the mountains, their winter home. Then they begin the migration all over again. For more, visit sites which specialize in the science and migration.

The butterfly life cycle is amazing to me, especially that the different generations of butterflies can find the path back and forth to their summer and winter grounds. I recently read Maya Angelou’s quote, which I’ve added above:

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou

It’s true. All beauty isn’t automatically beautiful. It becomes, through hard times, and because of those hard times, shines more brightly than it would have without the hard times.

I think the extra ingredient in true beauty is gratitude. When we have been through the darkest nights and made it through to the rising of the sun, we are grateful for that sunshine, whereas before we might have taken it for granted.

12 of My Favorite Butterfly Photographs

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on Privet
Growing, Stretching, Sharpening Ourselves to Become our Best
Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Echinacea
Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Echinacea
Red Admiral butterfly, Prague garden
Red Admiral butterfly, Prague garden
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Black Swallowtail butterfly
Black Swallowtail butterfly
Painted Lady
Painted Lady

Monarch butterfly on buddleiathe regal Monarch, who at this time of year flies thousands of miles to its winter habitat in Mexico

Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly on echinacea
Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly on echinacea
Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly
Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly

butterfly Monarch August13_081913_ 451wings like stained glass windows

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail butterfly
Zebra Swallowtail butterfly in flight
Zebra Swallowtail butterfly in flight

I still hold to this saying:

the butterfly

Have you noticed the Monarchs migrating this autumn?

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Hope through the Darkest Night

Red Spotted Purple Butterfly

For many months, I have been walking underwater. This has been the toughest part of life I’ve ever imagined. Moving forward has been painful, and days have passed by in slow-motion. But this is how it is, isn’t it? Life isn’t easy. Sometimes life takes our breath away.

Privacy is important when it comes to details and terms and situations, but glossing over the tough stuff doesn’t help anyone. The truth is no one is immune from the hardest parts of life. We all share a common bond: life is hard.

The big question is how do we hang on through the hardest parts of life?

Monarch butterfly on buddleia

Hope through the Darkest Nights

Years ago, I planted Swamp Milkweed in our backyard. I love butterflies, enough to try a plant with an unbecoming name like Swamp Milkweed. It is one of the only plants where Monarch butterflies lay eggs.

My boys and I watched closely for butterflies the first year, but didn’t have any success. The second year, though, we found black dots, and a week or two later, half-eaten leaves and striped caterpillars munching their way through the plant. They were like Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar. They ate and ate and ate.

One day, five caterpillars dropped to three. Birds, we discovered, were plucking them off. The next morning, we found two, and then only one. We decided to bring him inside, fed him leaves in a gigantic jar, and propped a long stick for him to make his chrysalis.

Over the course of the next several weeks, we watched in awe. He first swung his body in wild loops, hanging from his hind legs, as he spun himself into a chrysalis. It hardened and became opaque, but as time went on, the chrysalis became transparent. We could see the colors he was becoming. A change was taking place.

One morning, before the sun came up, the chrysalis split down the center. We stopped eating breakfast, I grabbed my camera, and all three boys and I sat on the kitchen counter and watched the vibrant orange wings emerge.

For the first few minutes, his wings were small and wet, and his body was over-sized. But through a process of wringing out the damp and stretching his wings, he came to resemble a butterfly.

It was one of the most beautiful transformations I’ve seen. But for sure, the process was not easy for him. It was painful, even to watch. But the pain was worth it. Hours later, when he seemed strong and his wings sturdy enough to fly, we took him outside. Ten minutes later, he let go of the twig he’d been clinging to for weeks, and took off into the brilliant blue sky.

Hope Is Essential

When our whole lives have overturned and we are a mess, it is okay. When we reach what we think is the end of the world, we have to hold tight. Before long, we will find a sliver of light along the horizon.

The sun also rises. We can make a new start.

the butterfly

Even after a life of prolonged struggle, God will give us wings, a new horizon, and a fresh start.

That is the most any of us can hope for. After the darkest night, the sun will rise. There is always hope.

Here’s to relying on those new wings and learning how to fly.

Red Spotted Purple Butterfly

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Gardens and a Beautiful Life: a Photojournal

Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly

“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in–what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

 

During the month of May and the first half of June, the weather blew into Ohio in hot gusts, dry enough to wither the normally green summer grass to a crispy brown. In evenings for weeks at a time, the sound outside on my street was not lawn mowers, but the puffs of rotary sprinklers. We had no rain for weeks. However, that all changed about two weeks ago, when the heavenly faucet turned back on.

In a week’s time, the grass is green, and the flowers bloom in profusion. Two years ago, I dug out and planted flowers along the deck in the back of our house — an improvement over the non-landscaped sparse grass (link back to how it looked before — wow, it’s changed!). And now, this third summer, the garden is filling in, lush and vibrant. Paradise, for me.

The past couple of days, in splashes of sunshine, I’ve taken my camera out with me into the yard to capture what I see…

My backyard gardens
The backyard gardens

“Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly
Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly

“In all things in nature, there is something of the marvelous.” — Aristotle

Ruffled daisies in the garden, unfurling
Ruffled daisies in the garden, unfurling

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” — John Keats

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the feeder tonight
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the feeder tonight

“I like light, color, luminosity. I like things full of color and vibrant.” — Oscar de la Renta

Tall Garden Phlox (the color and fragrance!)
Tall Garden Phlox (the color and fragrance!)

“A garden must combine the poetic and the mysterious with a feeling of serenity and joy.” — Luis Barragan

The Gardens
The Gardens

One of my favorite quotes from Still Alice by Lisa Genova: “She liked being reminded of butterflies. She remembered being six or seven and crying over the fates of the butterflies in her yard after learning that they lived for only a few days. Her mother had comforted her and told her not to be sad for the butterflies, that just because their lives were short didn’t mean they were tragic. Watching them flying in the warm sun among the daisies in their garden, her mother had said to her, see, they have a beautiful life. Alice liked remembering that.”
― Lisa Genova, Still Alice

Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly on echinacea
Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly on echinacea
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8 Summer Afternoon Beauties: a Photojournal

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” ― Henry James

Garden Roses
Garden Roses

8 Summer Afternoon Beauties: a Photojournal

Summer is my favorite season

For its golden sunshine and sherbet sunrises

Sherbet Sunrise
A Recent Summer Sunrise

For sundresses and walking barefoot in the garden

Tangerine-colored Daylilies
Tangerine-colored Daylilies

For stacks of books and reading in the shade

Sunflowers and Delphinium, a bouquet I enjoyed from my writing partner, Erika Robuck
Sunflowers and Delphinium, a bouquet I enjoyed from my writing partner, Erika Robuck

For hummingbirds with their rubies

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

And magical fairy flight

Juvenile male ruby-throated hummingbird
Ruby-throated hummingbird, juvenile male — dazzling feeder from dear friend Beth Hoffman

For heart-stopping color

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

And painted wings of light

oMonarch butterfly on buddleia
Monarch butterfly on buddleia

Summer afternoons, the color-filled ones with time smudged around the edges, seem to refill my well and refresh my spirit with wonder. Summer afternoon must be the two most beautiful words in the English language.

How about you? What do you like best about summer?

 

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Prague and the Longest Day of the Year

Painted Lady on Lavender

“If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance.”  -Bern Williams

In Prague, there is one sure way know that it is the longest day of the year: it is officially dark  from 11:30pm to 2:30am. Yes, we are at the shortest night of the year, and I can hardly imagine how people North of Prague are able to get any sleep … it is a really strange sensation to see light along the horizon when it should be the middle of the night.

But, I have to say now that we are officially at the Summer Solstice, that this past Spring was the most beautiful of my life. While the rest of the world has been wrecked with tornadoes, earthquakes, violent storms, and tsunamis, Prague and the majority of Europe has coasted through Spring 2011 with sunshine, 75*F, and a few rain showers. We have so many reasons to be grateful:

Swans Paddling the Canal in Brugges, Belgium
Swans Paddling the Canal in Brugges, Belgium

Continue reading Prague and the Longest Day of the Year

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Why Garden? 5 Reasons to Get Dirty This Spring

A Tiger Swallowtail on Echinacea

“Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow.” – Anonymous

A Tiger Swallowtail on Echinacea
A Tiger Swallowtail on Echinacea

Here in Prague, the earth is bursting with blooms — brilliant yellow fields patch the countryside, centuries’ old lilacs line boulevards, and petticoat-rimmed peonies wave in the spring breeze. It’s beautiful. Can you tell I’m a gardener at heart?

We are lucky to have a yard surrounding our rental house while we live as expats in Prague. And though I’ve planted a few flowers in our postage-stamp yard, I miss our sprawling yard in the United States. For there, though the half-acre started as spotty grass when we moved in, over ten years, the square of land became more flower garden than grass. It was my living painter’s canvas.

A Painterly Garden
My Favorite Flower Border

Isn’t it fun at this time of year to go to a garden center, gaze at all the colorful blooms, and dream about the gardens that could come home with you?

There are so many benefits to gardening … Here are five of my favorite reasons to get into the garden this spring:

1) You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt.  -Author Unknown

Mysteriously, digging in the dirt is the best therapy.

2) The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses.  -Hanna Rion

It’s true– the caress of a gentle breeze, the sound of a goldfinch flying banners overhead, the taste of the air after a summer rain, the sight of countless shades of violet within one unfurling flower, the fragrance of a knock-out garden phlox swaying in July. There is so much life to wake up to in a garden.

3) “In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful.” -Abram L. Urban

Just lovely. So well-said, on the connection between the gardener, her gardens, and her soul.

The Gardens in June
The Gardens in June

4) When one of my plants dies, I die a little inside, too.”  -Linda Solegato

Of course, all gardeners have plants that thrive and plants that die. Somehow through being closely connected to the natural life cycle, we realize the value of our moments and days.

5) “Gardens are a form of autobiography.”  -Sydney Eddison

When we create, we come to know ourselves.

The Gardens in August
The Gardens in August

This year, I’ve been thrilled to see my 5 rosebushes come fully into bud, as well as the delphinium I planted (and loved!) last year. And what have I planted? My hands got dirty planting twelve windowboxes for our Austrian-style house, filled with fuschia, verbena, petunias, and pelargonium. Pictures to come later this season …

Have you dug in the dirt yet this spring? If so, what have you planted? What plant are you most looking forward to seeing in bloom?

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Sunshine, Freedom, and a Little Bit of Friends

A Swallowtail, on our backyard lavender in Prague

Posted on July 27, 2010

“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower.” ~Hans Christian Anderson

 

A Swallowtail, on our backyard lavender in Prague
A Swallowtail, on our backyard lavender in Prague

This week, a gorgeous visitor surprised me at our home, cloaked in delicate colors and fluttering about on the breeze. At our home in the US, we would have Swallowtails and other large butterflies dancing about our large gardens on every sunny summer day. But here, in Prague, where our yard is significantly smaller and the flowers fewer, I was shocked to discover this beautiful Swallowtail flitting about the lavenders. To be honest, I forgot how much I missed them — butterflies and flowers and all gifts of the natural world that keep our minds remembering that a screen and a bleeping cursor is not all there is.

I think in all areas of life, we need that switch in thinking. A gust of fresh air and a burst of alluring color to remind us that where we are in life — tough times or otherwise — is not all there is.

Somehow, friends have a way of swooping in and refilling our empty sails with fresh wind to carry us further along, laughter to replenish our spirits, and a listening ear to share life’s weight.

To me, one of the best parts of life is in the sharing – to help us past just living, to inspire us to soar again with new freedom, fresh colors, and the sunshine of another friend to walk alongside us.

A BIG thank you to all my friends for all you do in lifting me past where I would be on my own. I am so grateful, and hope to pass the same along to others. For this is one of the best parts of life … sharing.

Starting the Conversation (Leave a Comment below): What brings you fresh perspective and a new burst of energy? How can you help friends and others along in their journeys this week?

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The Bright Side of the Road

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

“Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” –Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

What do you think of when you hear the word change?

When I hear the word change, I don’t think of jingling coins in a pocket, or cringe because I want to only keep things just as they are—comfortable. No, change to me means the new normal. Change is the hallmark of our past year, moving from Cincinnati, Ohio, to an expat life in Prague, Czech Republic.

This past year has been crazy-hard. Everything is different for us. In fact, we’ve had many discussions about some of the things that have stayed the same for us, our constants in a sea of change, things we are incredibly thankful to have: family, faith, health, Snickers. Things that have changed: well, everything. Yes, even our foods have changed, drastically. Nothing is the same. Change is our new normal.

I’ve had dozens of people ask or comment in the past six months, “How can you always be so positive?” or “Why are you always looking on the bright side?” After about the twentieth comment, I’ve had to stand aside and think for a while. Why? How?

This is what I’ve come up with, like the title of one of my favorite Van Morrison songs: I choose the Bright Side of the Road.

Nothing profound. But daily, I think, it’s a choice on how we choose to see the world. For the good or for the bad. For the light or for the dark. For the blessings or for the bummers. If we don’t choose to make today great, to see the beauty in the chaos, to find the best even out of the worst, today will be … just the opposite.

 

All photos copyright Jennifer Lyn King at www.jenniferlynking.com

Some say this mindset is a “positive” one. But I think it’s focusing on the truth. Today is a gift, created by our God who cares. And because he cares, we are freed to see the bright side of the road.

So, though things continuously don’t go as planned, it’s okay. For without the dark shadows in life, we wouldn’t have the contrast to clearly see the light. Today, I choose to walk on the bright side of the road. How about you?