|Photo credit: Lyn Fenwick|
Every year as autumn arrives I watch for the migration of the Monarch butterflies heading south to their winter homes in Mexico. Although I was working in the yard this year a few days during that time, I only saw 3 butterflies. After growing concern about the rapidly reducing numbers of Monarchs, in 2020 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service finally acknowledged the peril, but they only declared the Monarch "a candidate" for endangered status, acknowledging that the Monarch meets the listing criteria under the Endangered Species Act, but that they needed to "focus resources on our higher priority listing actions."
Like our honey bees, these essential insects pose a dilemma for farmers. Pollinators account for billions of dollars in crop production values, but some of the plants necessary to the insects are weeds farmers want to get rid of. Since the mid-1990s Eastern monarchs native to Kansas had declined in 25 years by about 80%. For the Western Monarch it was worse, at 99% in 40 years. No wonder I am not seeing the same numbers of Monarch butterflies I once saw. My photograph of Monarchs on marigolds takes on a new meaning. I associated it with Dia de Los Muertos--the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead.
Although the name might not seem appropriate for a day of celebration, it is in fact a happy celebration to honor loved ones who have died. Rather than mourning their deaths, alters, called "ofrendas" are constructed and offerings are made to those loved ones. Photographs, candles, food, and other objects with special meaning to the deceased are placed on the alters. Family and friends may visit, and parades and parties may be part of the celebration. The Ofrendas are decorated on October 31 and on November 2 public celebrations are held, which may include elaborate costumes. The migration of the Monarchs that occurs at this time is often associated with the Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.
In addition, so are Marigolds! The Aztec believed that flowers help guide lost souls, and the alters or ofrendas are often decorated with flowers to help guide the souls of their loved ones to see what they have done for them. Marigolds, with their bright colors and pungent odor, as well as their continued abundance in early fall are often used.
The Day of the Dead for 2021 was celebrated this past weekend, and perhaps the Monarchs I photographed in Macksville several days ago made it to Mexico for the celebrations. Our own Memorial Day remembrances in my community are different, but they are also alike in many ways. That weekend we also decorate the graves of loved ones with flowers, and many families use the occasion to tell their children about their relatives. In some towns, bands march and flags are flown. Some families still gather for lunches, and conversations turn to updates of family weddings and births and memories of loved ones. It is also a time for fun. Swimming pools open and families go to the lake or the beach. Our traditions may seem different in the details, but upon reflection they share many similarities--particularly in remembering those we have loved and lost.