In June, I flew home to visit my mom, brother, and sister-in-law, who all live in La Grande, Oregon. An unusually cool spring had produced an abundance of wildflowers. We went out to see the camas turning marshy fields periwinkle blue, the buttery-yellow lupines climbing up grassy slopes, and clusters of spotlight-yellow balsamroot, the “Oregon sunflower,” dotting pastures.
On the first warm, sunny day of my visit, Mom and I puttered about in her charming backyard, weeding and checking on her snow peas and raspberries. She had plans for landscaping her yard, to turn it into an oasis of native plants, especially those that attract butterflies, which got us talking about milkweeds and the monarchs.
Last year, Mom was still living in Central Texas where she’d had a butterfly garden. She’d grown up in Texas, moving about a bit, from Austin, where she was born, to College Station where her daddy did graduate work at Texas A&M, and then on to San Angelo and Fort Worth. “In San Angelo,” she said, “there was an empty lot close to our house that was covered with milkweed. When I walked through the lot, hundreds of monarchs would take flight.”
One day, when she was about seven, she noticed someone driving a tractor with a mower attachment onto the lot. “I ran home,” she said, “and shouted to my mother that the milkweeds and monarchs were in danger. Mother dropped everything and ran with me back to the lot, dragging along my little sister. We began collecting caterpillars and milkweed leaves as fast as we could.” The man on the tractor understood what they were doing. “He graciously cut his engine. And we collected all the caterpillars we could find, plenty of leaves to keep them fed, and dug up some milkweed, too, to replant in our garden.”
Within days, the caterpillars they’d collected and taken home reached the stage where they went crawl-about to pupate. “Soon, chrysalises covered our kitchen ceiling,” Mom said with a chuckle, “which didn’t please the woman who helped Mom around the house. She said ‘I’m not working for anybody who breeds worms! I quit!’”
Nowadays, more than ever, we need as many people as possible willing to stop mowers and breed “worms.” People willing to plant butterfly gardens and promote native plants.