Chasing Wonder

Chasing My Butterfly Dream – How it begins

It was July 8, 2019, and I’d just received word that I didn’t make it into the final 5. It hit me harder than I’d expected. I’d entered a contest through a travel company to win what they call a First Journey. Unlike a vacation, this trip would be about something that moves the soul. A bucket list trip that, by the way, their readers would enjoy following. And so I entered. That day. Because for several years I’ve been plotting and planning just such a trip. In fact, I’ve already outlined a novel based on a trip to follow the Monarch Migration highway south, from Canada to Mexico, stopping along the way to meet the folks supporting the butterflies. The collective awe of it fascinates me.
I wrote to them about my passion for nature and butterflies and the mysterious Monarch Migration. Here’s an excerpt:

When I was just out of high school my mom retired from public library service, bought a conversion van, and drove away from our little log cabin in Stumptown, Virginia. In what I dubbed the Wonder Wagon she traveled forty-one miles from home, got a flat tire, and stopped for the night.
It turned out to be a bit of useful trouble for her, as she quickly discovered an entire network of RVing women who seemed to have unlimited access to tools and tricks and workarounds that she would call upon more than a few times.
Six months later, she’d wound her way across the country to Bellingham, Washington, where she rented a garage, and stayed for another two months. In these pre-cellphone days I’d receive letters with little water-colored vignettes of the San Juan Islands and photos of our joint-custody Great Pyrenees, Blue, looking both exhilarated and bewildered.
I was too cool to miss her, too nervous to fly, and far too short-sighted to see what I was missing out on by not going to visit her on her First Journey.
Some years later my mom got sick. I asked her what adventure she wanted to take before she couldn’t any longer and she said she wanted to see the Grand Canyon. Nine days later she and I stood side by side on the south rim of the canyon, quietly trying to process the immensity of it. It was the first time I’d flown in eleven years, and the first time I was ever genuinely awestruck.
In all the world, no butterflies migrate like the monarchs of North America. They carry a mystery on their wings that may have developed 1.75 million years ago, and that we may never unlock. They fly more than 3,000 miles, across four or five generations, from Mexico to Canada and back. The second, third, and sometimes fourth generations don’t even touch down in Mexico, but somehow they transfer an invisible map down the line so that the final generation, the Methuselahs, find their way home. That is truly awe-striking.
For centuries we curious humans have been chasing these winged marvels, trying to find where they go and why. These days we even stick tiny, numbered tags on them, and release them with a whisper of safe travels, knowing we likely won’t ever know what becomes of the ones we caught. But we grin and wave enthusiastically, squinting into the sky at the embodiment of wonder.
Butterflies will do that to a person. Or hundreds and thousands of people. During my research I discovered that people have donated millions of hours and dollars and miles and seeds, because we all share a spark of the same butterfly wonder. Wonder that manifests itself in poetry and songs, tattoos and tombstones, all manner of tribute to either the symbolism or the mystery—or both– of this little insect.
This is a chance to share in the collective awe of a natural and endangered phenomenon. I love the idea of traveling I-35, the monarch highway, and hearing other people’s stories of astonishment and awe. Little love stories of butterflies and milkweed, and nature.

I made it to the top 25. And for a couple of weeks I let my imagine soar with ideas, and I called people all over the Midwest to pick their brains. I emailed with the founder of Monarch Watch, several citizen scientists, a Pheasants Forever contact I was given, and a dozen others who offered suggestions for places to stop and people to meet. 
The very thought that someone was reading my application and might find my First Journey idea as fascinating as I do is powerful. So getting the email that I’d not made top 5 took my breath away for a minute. Well, about 45 minutes.
But then, like a butterfly, my passion for this project fluttered up and I find myself surrounded with books and notes, pondering how to make this adventure happen.
I’ve cut the budget by 75%, continue to revise the plan, and can already see the universe is conspiring to support this adventure!

So in just a few weeks I’ll be heading north to begin this trip, and you’re welcome to follow along on my blog. If you have a tip about a place to visit or person to meet, please reach out to me at In the meantime, I hope you’re chasing your dreams.

Writer, Master Gardener, Chaser of Wonder.
Total post: 38

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