An Environmental Editorial Based on a Transformative Experience

We moved to the Midwest in 1999 from Western New York. The topography here is much the same as it was there. However, looking back I believe I had was is known as a transformative experience shortly after we arrived. I was driving down Highway 53 in the Town of Onalaska on a fall morning. Suddenly, ahead of me on the highway was a group of monarchs, probably 60-100, flying together in the bright fall sunshine! It was an awe-inspiring sight! Of course, I knew they were migrating to their over-wintering grounds in Central Mexico! But, there was so much more I did not know and felt compelled to find out. This just happened to coincide with an article in Family Fun Magazine, a publication to which I subscribed, about raising monarch butterflies! As they say, the rest is history! This experience led to nineteen years of learning, restoring habitat, raising Danaus plexippus, and sharing experiences involving the iconic Monarch Butterfly. I have become a Conservationist and Environmental Educator because of what I learned, and the experiences I had. The experience was transformative and, although I did not know it then, it had direct bearing on who I was to become. It is a story I love to share with conference attendees or classrooms of students when given the chance.

I think it is important to note that this experience is now almost two decades old! So much has happened to the Monarch over the time I worked to provide habitat and protect them. Ironically, at the same time I noticed the beautiful black and orange butterfly, I also witnessed the disappearance of milkweed from our fields in West Central Wisconsin.  The prevalence of housing developments and mono-cultural planting practices by corn and soybean farmers, along with the generous use of both herbicides and pesticides have played major roles in the decline of this beautiful and amazing creature that travels thousands of miles to survive. Sadly, those are only a few of the factors contributing to the decline of this iconic species. While saving the Monarch is popular now, it was not when I first began actively working to conserve this species.

This fact distinguishes me, I believe, if only to provide a sense of pride that I was doing something to help before it was deemed necessary. What if we all did that? What if we all chose something to help the environment or our communities, even if we are not required to, or told to jump in and be of assistance. What if we chose something that called to us as individuals – like the Monarchs did to me while flying in front of my van almost twenty years ago? The fact that I chose something to be passionate about has made a difference in the degree of effort I made to improve its circumstance. Choice can make a difference! Choice can be motivating, inspiring, personalized, and demanding all at once. But, it is the choice itself that makes the experience worth while.

Sadly, that is not how volunteer activities are usually conducted now. Companies, schools, and even community organizations such as churches, often “require” their members to perform community service.  While this might be effective, I posit that it is less effective in a long-term sense than having someone choose what and where they want to spend their time in making a difference.

So, I ask you. What is important to you about our environment? What would you like to see saved or improved or even diminished to a negligible status? Do you love forests and trees? Wetlands? Prairies? Monarchs? Birds? Bats? Or, it is bumblebees that turn you on?

Do you like to eat? If so, maybe you could learn how you can help our pollinators for one in every three bites of food is made possible courtesy of pollination. Are you concerned with safe food sources? Get involved with the Farm to Table movement or Aquaponics, so that you support those in your local communities who are growing food safely and sustainably. Do you drink water? Clean water resources are going to become an issue, if they are not already. Lead in our drinking water is making the news. Again. I can tell you that when I worked in the inner cities of Buffalo, New York and Baltimore, Maryland, thirty years ago as a nurse practitioner, lead poisoning was a problem then – especially for impoverished children. We have not made much progress, as can be seen if you pay attention to the recent news reports.

Those potential areas for involvement do not even begin to scratch the surface of environmental stewardship and volunteerism. I am beyond the point of asking, now begging, for YOU do something for our earth home. Make a choice. Choose what strikes passion in you, like I did with the Monarch all those years ago. Learn about your choice. And, then, ACT. Make life on earth better. Make life sustainable, not only for humans, but for all creatures. Surely, there is another species that is important to you and could you your help and involvement. It is important because we are all connected in the web of life.

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