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On Monarchs, Failure, And Perseverance

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Five years ago, when I first found wild milkweed growing in my garden and decided to let it run free, I was certain that the next summer I would have a yard full of monarch butterflies (since milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars feed on).

It didn't happen. That summer. Or the next, or the next three summers.

Every summer the milkweed spread, and my yard was filled with butterflies--just not monarchs. The fourth summer, when I took a break from my usual flower and vegetable gardening, I realized that butterflies need those flowers to feed. So I vowed to come back strong with flowers this past summer. Lo and behold, this August I saw my first monarch!

Now, imagine my utter delight when I went up to make a campfire one cool September night and saw a monarch chrysalis on my favorite campfire chair! It was like a gift for all my efforts.

I checked on it the next day, and it was fine. Then the next morning, I went up and...Well, something bad had happened to it. There was a black hole in the middle and no sign of life inside. Based on pictures I had seen of a monarch emerging from a chrysalis, I knew this wasn't a happy ending.

My first feeling was that I had failed. Let's face it, letting milkweed run amok in your yard isn't always pretty--although when it blooms in July, the scent is divine. But then I quickly moved to the whole "cycle of life" place and realized how grateful I was to have failed for so long. If attracting monarchs had been easy, I never would have done all the research I'd done. For example, I might never have watched the Flight of the Butterflies documentary, which sweetly tells the story of the husband and wife who tracked the migration destination in Mexico. If my little monarch had been born, it would have flown to Mexico from Pennsylvania!

I also never would have learned that milkweed is considered a noxious weed by the US government and that farmers are fined and punished if they let it grow in their fields!

The whole experience got me thinking about failure in general. If everything in our lives was easy, perhaps we wouldn't learn as much. Perhaps we wouldn't grow to our full potential. And if we give up at the first sign of failure, we are like that chrysalis that dies before it ever gets a chance to fly to Mexico.

So, milkweed, you are safe in my yard. And next year I will plant even more flowers for butterflies to drink from. I won't discriminate, either. Any butterfly or bird is welcome in my yard.

I will not give up, and neither should you.

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