Raising Monarchs Part III: Early August

Raising Monarchs Part III: Early August

While sitting in the dentist office yesterday I saw a that our local paper featured a man in my town who was raising monarch butterflies. I have to admit that seeing the article stung a little bit.  I’ve been doing the same for fourteen years but have never been featured in the paper!  I guess it’s all in who you know and where you volunteer. He volunteers for the USFWS, while I volunteered in a school district. Obviously, the value placed on what we were doing and who was paying attention to our individual quests was different. Still, when it comes down to it, we are both trying to help save and educate about an iconic species. Many people need to do what we are doing, so in the end, it’s all good!  Therefore, I am working at letting not letting the sting I felt yesterday fester today.  I also hope no one has a problem with what I wrote here. I try to be a good person and do see the larger picture but am subject to all the same emotions and feelings every human experiences. The difference is I just shared what I felt. Enough said.

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It’s a special time of year if you raise monarchs! The last generation of the breeding season is being born in the North and this is the generation that migrates to Mexico to over winter.  Later today I will order my tags from Monarch Watch so that by the time my last group is raised and ready to be released, they can be tagged. It’s been a great season to raise monarch butterflies in our area. I’ve done it long enough to have personally experienced the ups and downs of this population. As of this writing I’ve raised and released 30 monarchs in my own yard this season! There, I offer monarch habitat in the form of three different kinds of milkweed (all native species) and a wide variety of nectar plants for the adults. I am also “caterpillar sitting” for a friend who is on vacation. In the few days I’ve had her four caterpillars, I found a fifth – maybe from an egg or maybe from a new piece of milkweed introduced to the cage for food. Right now, four are chrysalises and one is J-hooked, ready to become a pupa and proceed with metamorphosis.  The daughters of my friend were all former garden club students, and thus, I want to be sure to do a good job for them, as I have a reputation to uphold! It would probably make me more unhappy than them to have to return a cage with fewer monarchs than I received.

In my own cages, I currently only have 2 chrysalises right now. However, the other night I found five small caterpillars on my rose milkweed. Prior to that I had found four eggs on my common milkweed, too.  The eggs and the caterpillars are separated for they do cannibalize – a fact I just learned by reading the book, Monarchs and Milkweed (2017) by Anurag Agrawal.  My milkweed patches, although large, are getting dry and already have formed seed pods, waiting for distribution by mother nature or myself later in the fall. I’ve been picky about which leaves to pick to feed the enclosed caterpillars because I know they prefer a more tender, moist, younger leaf. If you want some really scientific specifics about how monarch caterpillars have evolved special feeding techniques to help them survive on a noxious plant, you must read Agrawal’s book!

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A great read if you love monarchs! 

Finally, I am bolstered by how many people I know support my monarch conservation activities. Truly, I am involved in so much more than just raising them. I love sharing what I know and I am proud to say I am sought out for this task more and more often. In late July while at a local art show, we ran into a friend who was with a friend of hers. After some pleasantries were exchanged, we parted ways. A few minutes later, they were approaching me again. Our friend asked me to share what I know about monarchs with her friend. So, there in the middle of the art show, I did just that! She asked questions and I answered! A few minutes later, after parting ways again, a young father approached me (calling me “Miss” which was really rather nice) and asked if he had over heard me talking about milkweed. Yes, I replied; I raise monarchs and was sharing some information about milkweed. I asked if he had a question.  He did. I answered. Wow! I came away from those encounters feeling great. Apparently, I’ve gained a reputation as a monarch conservationist and I cannot tell you how much that means to me!

 

I’m looking forward to finishing a piece of curriculum on monarch tagging for an assignment this week. It will give me yet another way to share my passion with more school aged children, as it is never to early to plant the seed of environmental stewardship.

 

Over or Under Qualified? The Job Hunt.

Over or Under Qualified? The Job Hunt.

A few months ago I posted about looking for a job. You can read my post here. I wrote it in February. It’s August. I still don’t have a job.

As I’ve looked, and applied to at least one job that interested me, I’ve realized that I am overqualified for some and under qualified for others. Currently, I’m finishing my second Master’s degree. I received my first one in 1990. Yes, I guess that means I’m ancient! But, really, that degree was in Child Health and allowed me to function as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, which I did for nine years.  I was good at what I did, working at several esteemed institutions in the East, and even held national certification for nurse practitioners.  Being a health care provider is a world I left behind to raise my boys.  And, that world has changed. Now, NP’s are required to hold doctorate degrees in nursing science, nursing practice, or education. I think that is ridiculous. But, then again, my opinion doesn’t count because I left that world.

For twenty years, I’ve been active in the world of education. Volunteering, teaching, developing and leading groups, all without a teaching license. About four years ago I decided to pursue another Master’s degree in Environmental Education (EE) since what I felt I was good at and what I was spending my time at was teaching young children about nature based topics found right in our own community or school yards. Today, this is called place based learning. I am proud to say that I’ve taught over 500 children in those twenty years. To put it simply, that is a classroom worth of 25 students per calendar year!  And, that number does not reflect the students I had for book club or writer’s circle, both of which ran for five years or more. Yes, I love to teach. But, I still don’t have a license. I went into the Applied MS program for EE with my eyes wide open. I knew it would not allow me to get a license but buy me some legitimate authority on the subjects I was teaching.  While I think it has done that, I am finding that I still cannot get a job.

Jobs in environmental education seem like they are available for the young and mobile. They are for park rangers, USFWS personnel, summer camp instructors, and other similar, mostly temporary positions that require travel to another area of our country. or state.  I am too old for that. I have my roots, a family, and want to stay near to those I love. Life is short.

My lack of employment is not for lack of trying. The winter before last I applied for a park ranger position that was available close to home (on Brice Prairie). My application did not even make it to the site. It sat in the Twin Cities, regional office for the USFWS, and was not forwarded. In my opinion they missed out on having a passionate local person teach people about our prairie. I am not knocking who they hired, for she could have been local too. But, still, it was a missed opportunity for both me and the community.

After that, I applied for a consultant position for an organization that helped school districts develop and conduct outdoor classes (essentially, environmental education). After a lengthy time without hearing anything, I was contacted about a job 3 hours away. I turned it down. It would mean traveling several times a week to this site. They re-contacted me and promised they’d get in touch when they were looking for someone in our area. That was over nine months ago. I have not heard a thing.

Then, I took a co-curricular job with a neighboring school district to be their garden club advisor.  Essentially, I am paid to do what I had been doing in my resident district for the last 13 years. But, it is only for 75 hours per school year and only half of that are student contact hours…..not much for someone who loves to teach. The job has been somewhat of a challenge with gardens much larger than I previously managed and the student group much smaller than I was used to teaching. I’m staying another year to see if I can “grow the group.”   Membership letters will go out the first week of school, so we shall see.  Without the teaching piece, the garden maintenance is arduous at best. There were volunteers promised that did not materialize and now have pulled out without ever picking a weed.  Fortunately, with the aid of my husband, three other parent volunteers, and a good friend, the gardens look nice. We also experienced a random act of kindness when someone (we don’t know who) weeded the enter front garden!  It has been manageable, even without the promised volunteers from a local company.

And, lastly, I applied for a position at a local university – not teaching but in the library as a resource person. I never even heard from this institution as far as whether or not they received my application, filled the position, or even whether I was considered. Frankly, I’ve come to expect this kind of rudeness when applying for jobs.  And, that is a sad statement on how things are today. It would only take two minutes to write a one line email stating the job has been filled and thanking me for my interest! Don’t you agree?

So, where does this leave me? Still unemployed or underemployed if you count the measly hours I am getting paid for the co-curricular position. I think there are three things at play, 1) I’ve been out of the work force for too long, and 2) I am somewhat over qualified for some of the positions I am seeking, 3) I am under qualified for other positions, (there was another teaching position I considered at another university that required a doctorate) and, 4) I still have no teaching license, but still love to teach.

While I am trying to take life as it comes, the hunt for jobs has been disheartening. I keep revising my resume (CV), asking friends and colleagues for references, and then we wait. I am getting tired of it, I have to admit. I know I’m tired of being “in school”. The last few courses have been somewhat tiresome to get through. I’m ready for something else. But, what that is, I am not so sure. Sooner or later, I hope that I am thought to be neither under or over qualified but just the right person for the job!

This is my contribution to Slice of Life, Tuesday, a blog forum hosted by TwoWritingTeachers.org. Thanks to them, we can connect with other educators who enjoy writing and enriching the lives of students! 

Living in the Midwest: Grasslands

Living in the Midwest: Grasslands

Fall is a beautiful time in the midwest, especially when the sun is out and the air is crisp with a touch of coolness, foreshadowing the winter yet to come. Although it has barely been forty degrees each of the last two days, I have worked outside, preparing some garden beds for winter.

Yesterday, I stopped by a piece of land preserved some years ago by the Mississippi Valley Conservancy.  My Environmental History course has a project requirement as the final and I choose to find out more about this locally based organization that has been protecting lands in the Driftless area of Wisconsin since 1997.  The acquisition of the New Amsterdam Grasslands was one of the first sites earmarked for preservation.

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It occurred because a DNR employee, who was also one of the founders of the Mississippi Valley Conservancy, had been noticing bird activity in the area (a few hundred acres) when driving past this site to work.  Fortunately, a financial backer stepped forward to allow the conservancy to purchase the grassland site and also protect the endangered and threatened bird species living and reproducing in the habitat.

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Over the last two weeks, I  have collected a great deal of information on the Mississippi Valley Conservancy. I even visited the archive room at the local public library! Knowing that interviews are important to lend first hand accounts to the story at hand, I attempted to contact one of the founders of this group. But, yesterday, I stopped by the New Amsterdam Grasslands – only one of the local pieces preserved by the MVC – to take some photographs to ad to my presentation.  It was on my way home from an appointment I had earlier in the day and I wanted to see how it was marked, for I have driven the road the entry is on many times and never saw the marker. At first I drove past it, but sitting quite a bit off toad, I found the trailhead.

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As you can see, it was a beautiful fall day! The New Amsterdam Grasslands is only one type of land that the MVC protects. There are wetlands, bluffs, and more. I am sure the photos will add greatly to my presentation. And, you can be sure that I will be hiking some of the MVC trails when it is a little warmer out!  Who will be joining me?

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Monarch Education

Monarch Education

I spent this morning at a neighboring school district, about twenty minutes away by car.  Sixty first graders, in three separate classes, sat quietly and listened to my presentation on the Monarch Life Cycle, the importance of milkweed, Monarch Migration and the development of the Monarch Highway. With the exception of the information on the Monarch Highway, it is a presentation I have done many, many times before. And, I still love doing it.  It truly is my passion.

It is now, at this time of year, that monarch butterflies migrate. The little details of this migration are lost on many.  What follows is a little bit of what I shared today:

  • Only monarchs born in starting in late August and into the fall migrate South to the Sierra Madre’ Mountains in the central region of Mexico.
  • Monarchs travel several thousand miles to reach the overwintering grounds in Mexico. Actually, from my home in West-Central Wisconsin to the preserve in Mexico is approximately 1, 750 miles. An insect, weighing roughly as much as a paperclip – a mere 1/2 a gram, flies this entire distance on its own power. It is the only butterfly to migrate and can cover the span of three continents, up to 3,000 miles if travelling from Canada.
  • Monarchs also overwinter in Florida and, if west of the Rocky Mountains, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
  • Monarch butterflies have declined in population by 90-97%  over the last 30 years  depending on the source you rely upon.
  • Monarchs born in the warm months, preceeding early August, only live about a month. It is only the last (fourth/fifth generation – depending on where you live) that migrate. This generation of monarchs lives 8-9 months.
  • The monarchs we see in the upper midwest in the Spring are NOT the same monarchs that we saw in the fall. It is most likely their grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
  • Nature signals when the migration should start in the fall.
  • Monarchs cannot survive our cold winters, so they start leaving when our days shorten and get cooler.  Monarchs cannot fly if it is less than approximately 60 degrees F.
  • Monarchs need habitat. Habitat loss is one of the reasons for the decline in this iconic species. Other reasons include: widespread pesticide use, mono-culture farming practices, and the spread of human development.

Couching this all in terms that first graders can handle takes some practice putting terms into phrases they can understand and making connections to things that most first graders know. We spent most of our time talking about the life cycle stages today, and obviously part of the reason for that is due to the Common Core State Standards being addressed with the content.

However, today, I also talked about tagging monarchs, which is something I have been involved with doing for the last three summers. It is part of Citizen Science. Monarch Watch is an organization that studies monarch butterflies. You can purchase tags in August and attach them to butterflies you raise for release or capture wild just to tag. You report your tag information, release date, and sex of the butterfly, along with the tag number (found on a sticker that goes on the distal cell of the hindwing) to a Monarch Watch data base. When the butterfly is found, the individual can report the information to Monarch Watch and then the recovered tags are reported to the public.

Although being a Citizen Scientist is where I am in my journey in raising monarchs, I realized that the tagging was information that was just not necessary for most of the first graders. There were probably only 1-2 students per class that showed understanding of what the tagging actually meant and was used for by the scientists. However, is that not differentiation? All learners should have something to reach toward and be able to grab on to once they are ready, right?  Would it not be boring to sit there as a first grader and only hear what you already know about monarch life cycles?  I think so. I would rather err on the side of too much detail than not enough. This has always been my approach.

Milkweed was discussed since it is the only plant that the caterpillars eat in stage II of the monarch life cycle. This one plant sustains and entire species of butterfly. So, I asked what could be done about the monarch’s population decline.

And, you know what?!

First graders can actually come up with what needs to be done!

We need to plant milkweed.

Since I was at this school two years ago to discuss the same topic, their supply of milkweed has grown and is plentiful in their school yard garden. With the exception of caterpillars brought in from the students’ homes, I believe they are raising only the wild caught caterpillars for subsequent release.  This is an improvement over ordering caterpillars through the mail, a practice that needs to be strongly discouraged due to the possible spreading of disease.

I mentioned the Monarch Highway at the conclusion of my presentation today.  It is a relatively new phrase coined to designate the I-35 corridor that runs from Minnesota through states further South to Texas and into Mexico.  These states, along with academic institutions and environmental/conservation groups such as Monarch Joint Venture, are leading the way to provide increased habitat and milkweed in the ditches and rights of way along this highway. Attempts at curbing roadside mowing, especially in the fall, is also being promoted. Monarchs need milkweed and hopefully, soon, the Monarch Highway will provide a plethora of this sustaining plant.

As you can see, there is a wealth of information that can be shared and excite children, even the very young, into providing for the well-being of another species. It is one of the things I love about this topic – I can customize my presentation to be appropriate for preschoolers to adults, making the topic awe-inspiring for the young with the miracle of metamorphosis and migration, to a pressing need for adults to be called into action. Butterflies are pollinators and without pollinators, our food supply is greatly diminished, and that fact has great implications for humans.

I left the classrooms today with hope for the future. Thursday, I will return to speak to three more first grades.  After that visit, all 120 students will be armed with milkweed seeds to plant in their home garden beds.  They got it! Monarchs need Milkweed, Monarchs go through Metamorphosis, and in the late summer Monarchs Migrate to Mexico! The monarchs might need a miracle now to keep their population from dwindling further. But, on days like today, I think it is entirely possible!

Thanks, West Salem Elementary First Graders!

Monarch Stories: Part I

Monarch Stories: Part I

Today, I realized I have quite a few monarch stories. Early this morning, I travelled to the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge to speak to a group of Festival attendees about the Monarch Butterfly and its current plight.  On my way, I was reviewing my self-introduction (in case it was necessary) and remembered how I came to be a monarch conservationist. It is the first of many stories.

To really understand the Monarch, one must first understand their life cycle.  The reason for this is that this species is sustained by only one plant, the milkweed plant. Now, I have been a monarch conservationist since the year 2000, when a group of them, probably 60-100 en masse,  flew in front of my mini-van following our local highway into town!  It was early fall, and I am sure they were on their migration journey, just passing through our region.  This transformational “event” happened to coincide with my reading of an article in Family Fun Magazine about how to raise monarchs. I was hooked! I told this story to the group of interested community members attending today’s presentation.

The story of how I became “hooked” on monarchs is relatable. It tells my audience how a wife, mother, and nurse eventually turned into a conservationist and environmental educator.  Pretty much, since that time, so many years ago, I have educated first myself, and then others, on the mysteries of the monarch.

Today’s talk, after reviewing the life cycle and the miraculous migration, turned to the more serious subject of the monarch’s decline.  Humans are responsible for much of what has caused the decline of the monarch population in the last few decades. Humans are now needed to fix it.

What was interesting is that this small group of people who gathered to hear me talk, were already very informed. We had a great discussion about how we can get others informed and involve them in efforts to help the Monarch Butterfly.  One belief was commonly held – education. Education is the key to starting the engine on habitat restoration.  We all agreed to go and talk to neighbors, friends, schools, and other community members about what we know and share what we have learned. Milkweed is essential for the Monarch. It is not a weed, as thought for so many years; it is a plant that sustains one of our pollinators. We need our pollinators because we need food!

Now with this blog, I have a bigger audience than my friends, neighbors, community members, and area schools. I am asking you to learn about the needs of Monarchs and what you can do to help. It is really as easy as spreading a few seeds! And, the seeds can usually be obtained for free. So, do your part!  Ask questions. Learn. Share. Plant. Admire the beautiful creatures that visit your yard or fly by you on the highway.  Oh, how I would love to see that group of monarchs fly by me again!

Only together, can we save this iconic species.

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace

At the end of April, I presented to one of our elementary schools on Forests as part of their Environmental Day celebration. Our forests are one, if not the, most important natural resource we have in the world today. The children heard an impassioned description of what the forest does for humans. The single most important function of our forests is to provide and clean the air we breathe. This is such an abstract concept for eight year olds!  Although, through our discussion, I realized that many of them do understand that without trees and our forests, human life, and most other life dependent on oxygen would perish from the earth.  After reminding the students of the very important role the forest plays in all of our lives, all over the world, the discussion then turned to what we can do for the forests!

You can imagine my surprise when less familiar to the students was the concept of “Leave No Trace.”  Life experience is short when you are 5-11 years of age. Therefore, I ended up explaining what this term meant for us and for the forests.  Just as the clean air and abundant oxygen provided to us by trees and the forest is invisible, we need to be sure we are not leaving something visible behind in the forest. Most adults realize what “Leave No Trace” means. You know that it means do not litter or do not leave anything behind that indicates you were there. It means what you carry into the forest, you must carry out.  This is a more concrete concept that of trees providing a gas that sustains our life on earth. It made me wonder why the children were not more familiar with “Leave No Trace.”

Perhaps we need another public service campaign like the very successful Smokey Bear media coverage of the 1970’s. Some might say we need talking trash cans, similar to those installed in popular amusement parks frequented by tourists.  I just think we need to visit the forest with our youth – our children and grandchildren – to begin to show appreciation for what the many trees provide. Studies have shown that the best way to protect a resource is to use it.  If you use something and enjoy it, you will be more likely to fight for it, if you need to. What’s more worth fighting for than the very air we breathe? Not much, I would say.

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So, as you visit the forests where you live – and you really should visit – it is healthy to do so. Talk to your children and family members about what it means to “Leave No Trace.”  We receive so much from the forest,  the least we can do is to take everything but our footprints with us.

Inspired by the WordPress Daily Prompt: Trace

Life of a Garden Club, A Poem

Life of a Garden Club, A Poem

via Daily Prompt: Survive

Evergreen Garden Club.

Founded September 2004 – Concluded May 2017.

The Life of a Garden Club that is Evergreen,

Twelve is the times the Butterfly Garden has been planted by students unseen

The Monarch Way Station Sign is seen but not read, signaling a special precaution to

those who truly care:  Don’t spray this space, is what is implied,

it is here to offer hope for a another species to survive.

The milkweed has erupted, but lonely still

awaiting the visit leaving an egg on its leaf.

Perennials already tall, verdant is the color that comes to call.

In spots, overcrowded, in spots it is bare –

Just like my heart – laying open, if you care.

The winter plow has done its damage again, just like year upon previous year

with the side-walk remaining cracked and unfixed.

How long before it is mended? We’ll see. It obviously has taken its share of kicks.

Our old tree stump is joined by a healthy new tree,

adding another memory of loss and what was only to be.

The students still have awe and wonder in their eyes,

it is I who is tearing as I bid them good-bye.

It is time to move on, but the growth will not stop.

The students, the plants, and I will survive, even if

Evergreen Garden Club now only exists in our minds.

 

Inspired by Evergreen Garden Club and the Daily Prompt: Survive