The Butterfly Tree — Monarch Migration

He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. –Job 5:9

[This week I’d like to share with you a short story that I wrote several years ago. It’s a good September “song.”]

I wandered aimlessly through the big, grassy field. It was a foggy Saturday early in September. I felt as I did on Christmas Day when I opened a gift I thought was a toy and it turned out to be soap, school clothes or a new pair of shoes. The field stretched along the lakeshore. The locals called it the Arm of God because it was long and open, and ever-changing. As I walked that day, anglers stood on wooden piers. I heard one of them say that perch bite best on foggy mornings, especially when there’s a breeze from the south.

I was ten years old then. My neighborhood was just to the west of the Arm of God. It had no playmates and I had no siblings. It was a lonely place for a kid like me, a place where no one stopped to listen to birds sing or to smell the lake breeze or to look up in the night sky and see the stars.

The field was my refuge. I went there when I wanted to escape from my parents’ world of work, hurry and responsibilities. On the Arm of God there were miracles, but you only found them if you looked hard enough, if you were quiet enough and if you knew in your heart that they were there to be found. I went there each day looking for miracles.

As I watched the anglers, I wished that the sun would break through the clouds. I thought it might. The sky had a hazy, golden glow. A butterfly — a monarch butterfly — surprised me as it flew past my head. It hovered, fluttering next to my face. Another came and then another. Before long, butterflies were all around me. Hundreds of monarchs flew through the field. Against the bleached sky, they looked like orange marmalade spread thick on light toast.

I offered my hand as they fluttered around me. Boldly, one took it. She climbed onto my fingertips, and she stayed there a while. I named her Queen. That’s who she was — Queen of the Butterflies. She was bigger and brighter than the rest. Her thin, black legs were long and strong, and they tickled when she climbed to the back of my hand. She rested there. Then she spread her wings, waiting patiently for the sun to come out. I sat perfectly still until the sun broke through the clouds. Queen thanked God by opening and closing her wings.

All day long I played with the butterflies. I pretended I was a scarecrow, and they settled on my outstretched arms. I raced with them. I lay on my back and tried to count them until I grew tired, and I fell asleep in the grass. The butterflies watched over me.

I awoke to the sound of my mother’s voice calling across the field, “It’s time to come home for supper.”

I hesitated.

“Come home right now!”

Reluctantly, I left the field and my butterflies behind.

At home, we sat in the kitchen and ate fried fish, applesauce and ripe tomatoes fresh from the garden. Mother talked about new bedroom curtains and Dad chatted about meetings, sales trips and making money. Outside, the monarchs danced like orange flames as they flew past the window.

“Look!” I said. “Look at the butterflies!” They did for a minute — but that was all.

The butterflies landed, one by one, in the crab apple tree in our big front yard. Hundreds of monarchs neatly folded hung there like bats covering the branches. They’d followed me to my house from the Arm of God.

I watched from our sun porch. Mother and Dad watched too for a while, until something more important called them away. I stayed and guarded my butterflies, just like they had watched over me when I slept in the field.

The sun turned to smoky twilight. Inside, the television blared, and I heard my dad ask where I was. Mother told him I was still on the porch watching the butterflies hang from the tree.

“Come in now,” Dad called to me.

“Please,” I begged, “Let me stay. I want to make sure they’re all right.”

“What could possibly happen?” Dad asked.

“Something could get them,” I said. “a cat, a dog, or even a possum!” My voice climbed three octaves as I begged my parents to give me my way. Surprisingly, they agreed.

I stayed on the sun porch, cozy and locked in, not far from the crab apple tree, I was a sentry keeping good watch all through the night — wide eyed, eager, alert, and ready to chase off predators — until I fell asleep on the old horsehair couch.

It was dawn when I woke up. The thinnest tree branches bent toward the ground, heavy with butterflies dampened by dew. Something was happening! The tree was alive with the rhythm of wings. One after another, little orange fireballs shot into the sky.

“Get up!” I shouted. “Hurry! They’re leaving!” But Mother and Dad stayed in their bed.

Miracles exist, but you have to go look for them. I saw a miracle that day.

The butterflies left as fast as they’d come. I stood on the porch in my pajamas watching them fly away. How many miles would they travel that day? Where would they rest that night? I wondered: Would anyone care that they came from the Arm of God?


Dear God. Help us to look for the miracles that exist all around us.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The Butterfly Tree — Monarch Migration

  1. Oh Jean, I love your writing. It's so filled with wonder and beauty. We miss so much with all our hurrying and worrying. May you have many butterfly days in this season.Blessings,Susan 🙂

  2. Jean, this is an amazing post. I had to browse your blog after Susan pointed me to it. Your nature writing takes me back to some of the best moments of my childhood.

  3. Hello, Rosslyn.Welcome to The Compost Pile! I'm so pleased that you stopped by and enjoyed my post.I try to post every weekend, so please visit me again.Jean

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