Chasing Wonder

In the Service of Beauty

“We’ve all got our own little clovers with worlds on them!”

                                           ~ Heather, from Horton Hears a Who

The butterflies waking up 


Winter is here, our midwest Methuselah monarch butterflies are tucked in the oyamel firs of Mexico, and I’m reflecting on the first season of my wonder chasing. I met and interviewed such a diverse mix of folks– artists, advocates, runners, teachers, retirees. Each on his or her own wonder chase everywhere from Canada’s lake shores to the Rio Grande River Valley.I found people living lives of passion, in the service of beauty. Not only that of words and colors, parks and gardens, but the Grand Beauty of the planet. This big blue marble we inhabit is adorned with billions of amazing people making extraordinary efforts to protect, preserve, and celebrate it. 

In this post I want to introduce you to a few of the people whose commitment, creativity, and generosity inspire me. Some of these folks weren’t even necessarily monarch advocates, but whose own passions intersected with mine along the way, such as Amy Buchs and Ellyse Frazier. One or two had monarch encounters alight upon them, as in Jessica Eperlding’s and Jerry Younce’s experiences.In my adventures of chasing wonder I’m finding so many lovely humans creating pollinator gardens and monarch waystations and are part of the whole of us watching out for all the tiny beautiful creatures in the world. That knowledge gives me joy.As Wendell Berry said, “The earth is what we all have in common.”

Retired teacher and talented muralist Amy Buchs and drafting teacher Dave Schlemmer are the artists painting the city of Auburn, Indiana’s mural project, which includes an amazing two-story monarch life cycle scene. Amy chatted with me on a sunny afternoon, as neighbors and friends stopped by to gaze up at the beautiful jade chrysalis she’d just finished.She and Dave are a good team, working quickly and changing things up easily as they talked through ideas. They had the mural completed by the time I came back from chasing wonder in Texas, and while I was taking pictures several people stopped to admire the beautiful work. 
The completed mural is stunning

Recently I took a friend to see the mural and again there were others posing for pictures between the wings of the human-sized monarch. I smiled to myself, wondering if Amy knows how many people are finding joy in this mural. I hope she does. Check out the mural and the entire project here: 

Artist Ellyse Frazier heard about the Monarch Ultra at the local farmers market where she sells her pen and ink and watercolor pieces. On a whim she decided to design a poster to help draw attention to the event. She presented copies of it to the runners at the Little Rock welcome event and the ultra team posted pictures of it on Facebook. It’s a beautiful poster and I wanted it. 

Photo of Carlotta James and Ellyse Frazier
from Monarch Ultra FB page

I reached out to her and before long I had my own copy, signed and now framed hanging where I see it every day. It reminds me of the big adventures I had with the Monarch Ultra team, and how a passion for natural beauty brought us all together. Ellyse’s talents are on display at

Heather Fyfe – A Facebook buddy in a monarch group, Heather posted a sweet hand painted sign in her butterfly canoe back in August. I sent a message to ask her the story behind it and she wrote back that her childhood was full of beautiful colorful birds and butterflies and she developed a fascination for nature. Over the years she noticed birds disappearing from the landscape and the river near her became polluted. By 2014 she assumed she’d seen her last monarch. But when she and her husband moved to a smaller property and began growing native flowers and milkweed the birds, butterflies, and bugs returned. 

Heather’s canoe garden

“I ungarden, which basically means letting goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace run rampant.  The monarchs and birds thrive here.”Her intuitive garden style and welcoming signage attract lots of pollinators, including a caterpillar so inspired by her art that it climbed the sign and made its chrysalis just under the butterfly wing.

Art and nature teaming up in wonder

Krista Schlyer, author of Continental Divide and Almost Anywhere, came to Fort Wayne for the showing of her documentary Ay, Mariposa. The movie looks at the lives being affected by the border wall in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, including the National Butterfly Center and its inhabitants.In the discussion afterward Krista talked about the number of animals and insects that become displaced when physical borders are constructed, and she mentioned the red deer study done in the Czech Republic after the Berlin Wall came down. A biologist tagged and tracked deer for seven years during which time they continued to reroute through the woods rather than cross where the wall and electric fencing had been. The deer passed down a collective memory built as protection from electrocution. 

It makes me think about the butterflies in Mission, Texas, just a few wing flaps from Mexico, and how they may have to learn new routes and build a new collective memory to travel to their winter roost. 

Krista’s writing is gorgeous. I didn’t know that until after I met her. I bought her book Almost Anywhere and took it for her to sign that evening, and when she asked if I’d read it, I told her truthfully, not yet.I read it last month and repeatedly chastised myself for not having read it before I met her. It’s such a beautifully honest and raw story and she deserves to have people show up and sing its praises. 

Brava, Krista. Extraordinary. Get your soul stirred by her work here:

Milo Workman – The Hope of our Future

Milo and me

Milo, aspiring lepidopterist, also attended the film showing that evening. Adorned with beautiful blue eyes and a thoughtful smile Milo has a shy manner, which works in his favor as one must lean in and really listen when he speaks.

I met him at the Monarch Festival in September at Eagle Marsh where he had a table of items for sale to raise money in support of the monarchs. He said his passion for monarchs started around age four, so at nine he’s been advocating for them at least half his life. His entire family helped him at his booth that day, including little sister Nixie perched on her mom’s lap taking money for the t-shirts they sold.

Milo told me he started his Monarch Rescue Task Force while monitoring the butterflies as part of the Little River Wetlands Project, where he learned to tag and raise monarchs. He had a GoFundMe page selling monarch shirts and magnets to support the project.He likes to teach others about them and the ways in which we can all help protect them. He’s amazed by the fact that monarchs travel thousands of miles to Mexico, and he hopes to see them there someday.

During the Q and A at the film screening one of the ultra team members made a statement about how important it is for us to work harder now to save the environment, and that it’s unfair to lay it all at the feet of our youth. Milo’s arm rose and he gave a thumb’s up. This young man should be able to enjoy nature instead of worry about it.Milo’s face is what I conjure when I get stuck in the mire of heartache about the environment. It serves him not at all for me to cry. He, and all who will inherit this earth need us to get it right.

Jerry points out the remaining
monarchs high in the branches

Jerry Younce owns a farm in Wabash, Indiana, where for the first time since he bought the place in 1978 had a roost of monarchs show up in early September. This year for the first time he planted buckwheat– too late for anything else, he said– and he thinks that what drew them. He didn’t seem at all surprised to see a woman pulling up the long driveway at 7am, peering skyward. Not a monarch follower, he still noticed when his maple tree filled with little folded wings, and he told a few friends and neighbors. Word got out, and people stopped by during the three weeks the butterflies were in residence.
At one point he had so many they started roosting in his Bradford pears near the road. He was kind of tickled that so many people were interested enough to venture out into rural Wabash just to have a look at the monarchs hanging around.  

Ron Divelbiss – A Summer 65 Years in the Making

Keeping tabs on his tags

I met Ron at Metea Park in Leo, Indiana, where he was tagging and releasing monarchs. He’s an easygoing gentleman who’s been working with the monarchs at the park for years. Ron trains volunteers to help with the tagging and this year had 27 participants, which is a good thing since he raised a total of 516 eggs and caterpillars, tagging and releasing 225. He keeps detailed notes for Monarch Watch, and even more notes for himself. He shared a story with me that he wrote about being 14 years old spending time with his grandmother in their summer kitchen observing caterpillars and butterflies.

I could feel that kid-like wonder in his words. It’s passion he continues to share with elementary students, park volunteers, and the little winged wonders he’s loved for 65 years.  

Pre-dawn roost rest

Jessica Eperlding – In the Shadow of Wonder
She’s a quiet woman with a generous heart, which might be why the monarchs came to her. Jessica discovered a roost on her property when she was mowing one day in August. The mower startled the butterflies, flushing a flap of orange wings overhead. She saw the shadow, and thinking it was a large bird, looked up into a sky full of magic. 

Before this summer Jessica didn’t know much about monarchs. She’d never seen a roost and wasn’t aware some butterflies do that on their migration from Canada to Mexico. She connected with Kylee Baumle, a local writer and photographer, and that’s how I got to see my first roost. I arrived just before dawn on an early September morning to see Kylee standing under a cedar tree pointing her camera skyward.  As I moved closer I could see patches of beige, gray, and orange dotting the branches. The monarchs were resting, waiting for the sun’s warmth, wings folded together. We spent the next couple of hours, and in fact the next few weeks gazing upward into the maple and apple and pine trees that lined Jessica’s property. 

Our little team grew to include Lisa Conrad (both Lisa and Kylee come up in my next post) with each of us bringing those who would love the experience as much as we did, grandkids, parents, friends.Jessica’s generosity of spirit gave a handful of us a gift greater than she could imagine. 

On one of my visits I asked her how it feels to wake up and remember this rare surprise was just outside her back door. She said it was very special to have her coffee with thousands of sleeping monarchs overheadIn her soft voice she mused that she might get a little depressed when they left for good, but when I followed up with her weeks later she said that after a month of the butterflies being there she had begun to worry they might get stuck here as Indiana’s fickle weather could turn on them, and was a bit relieved they finally moved on with their journey. 

She shared the experience with friends and butterfly folks who heard about the roost, welcoming all of us to witness the stunning work of the natural world in her backyard, including a school in Ohio that took a field trip to marvel at the monarchs. 

To stand among so many butterflies, to see them shiver off the night and rise up in a flurry of orange is unforgettable. They can make you fall in love in the flap of a wing, after all. It seems Jessica, like so many of us, fell under the spell of the winged wonders.

“What was once ordinary is now extraordinary with the trees exploding with butterflies and seeing it all come alive on a daily basis, you get spoiled.”

I will always remember the experience at Jessica’s and am forever grateful for her kindness.      


Western Monarch Summit

Up next: This week is the Western Monarch Summit in Carmel, California, and I’ll be attending with two new monarch friends, Kylee Baumle and Lisa Conrad. Stay tuned! 

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

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