Monarch magic on the Manzke farm

Susan Manzke

I was doing some spring cleaning one day—yes, I’m that late—when Bob came looking for me. He actually surprised me because I was up to my eyeballs working in an upstairs room—changing my old office into a semi-guest room.

Research shows that it may take as many as five generations for monarchs to make it north out of Mexico, venturing as far as southern Canada, before returning and flying back south of the border for the winter.

“You won’t believe what just happened to me!” Bob started.

Of course, I instantly wondered what had gone wrong. Did he get stuck? Was there an emergency? Did he need my help?

“I’ve never seen this before in my life. They surrounded me. There were hundreds of them.”

“Bees?” I asked as the bees and wasps have gotten aggressive in their rush to get ready for winter.

“Butterflies, hundreds of them,” said Bob. “You’ve got to see them!”

It was easy for me to drop what I was doing and follow Bob outside—I honestly didn’t need much of an excuse.

I grabbed my camera—and of course, Sunny our dog came along—and jumped into our cart for a ride down the farm lane.

“I was taking the branches that had come down in the storm to the brush pile when suddenly they were all around me.” Now I knew Bob meant butterflies.

One or two monarchs followed us down the lane. I marveled at their speed as they kept up with the cart, though Bob doesn’t drive fast—he’s either busy looking at our crops or at the landscape and wildlife around him.

When we drove up near the ditch, hundreds of butterflies arose from their resting places on the trees.

Monarch butterflies flutter high in the trees on author Susan Manzke's farm.

All I can say is that it was magical.

The many, many monarchs flitted and danced around us, eventually returning to the trees. Some of the branches held hundreds, maybe thousands, on the leeward side of the trees. The wind was from the southwest, so not helpful for their journey south.

I wanted to absorb the moment and keep it with me. The best way I could do that was with my camera. The butterflies sitting quietly on the leaves looked like leaves themselves, at least from a distance. A little farther away they blended in perfectly with the scenery.

When we moved the cart again, many flew around, but only for a few moments. They then settled back with the others.

My mouth gaped open as I snapped the shutter on my camera.

I felt like I was in Narnia—from the fantasy The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. A flutter of butterflies gathered in the movie to become a transparent person. Another time that I experienced this feeling, I was walking down our lane and a flutter of corn borer moths surrounded me—yes, they are pests, but not for me at that moment.

We didn’t know how long the butterflies would hang around our farm, so we wondered if we had time to tell anyone. Rain was on the darkening horizon. Bob called his sister. Ginny was the closest. It didn’t take her too long to get here from town and,of course, she loved seeing all our flying friends, too.

Migrating Monarch butterflies cluster among the greenery as they prepare to head south.

The following day, after the storm passed, we went out to see if the flutter of butterflies were still there. Many had moved on, but a few hundred remained. My friend Mary came in time to see them.

At noon the next day, only a few remained. That evening all were gone, on their way south to winter in Mexico.

I know we’ll never get to see the monarchs in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico—at least that’s where the internet told me they winter. But for a brief time, we had the treasure of having a flutter of monarchs right here on Sunnybook Farm and it was magic.

FYI: I’ll be speaking at the Chilton Public Library on September 17, 2018, 6 pm. My topic is Saving Family Stories. If you’re in the area, come join us. I’ll have books to sell.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;