Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Whispered Memories: A Monarch Butterfly's Flight

When we learn something, it becomes a memory that we can access to inform future decisions and behaviors. Repeated enough, that learning becomes instinct - the accumulation of memories passed down through the generations. Instinct is the dog biting a child who tries to take its food. It's the zip of adrenaline when someone follows us down a dark alley. It's the monarch butterfly, traveling tens of thousands of miles with nothing to guide it but a whispered memory embedded in its genes.
From The Ones We Choose, a novel by Julie Clark

I'm a fiction reader. Give me a good novel I can get lost in, and I'm happy to leave real life behind for a short time. And it's always a pleasant surprise when the book is written so beautifully that it's almost like poetry.

I finished The Ones We Choose by Julie Clark earlier this month. It was one I'd asked the Hutchinson Public Library to order, since I'd enjoyed Clark's other novel, The Last Flight, which was already in their collection. (I recommend both of Clark's novels.)

When I saw the description of the monarch butterfly, I took a photo of the page. I knew the majestic monarch butterflies would soon arrive in our backyard for the annual pilgrimage. I loved the idea that the butterfly knows where to go based on "a whispered memory embedded in its genes."

I suppose the phrase also resonated because I read it just before we left Kansas to travel to South Dakota to see Randy's brother at the hospice. The "whispered memories" are part of a human's life journey as well. No matter the disparate choices made by siblings in adulthood, there is a "whispered memory" of a shared history.

The butterflies typically take a "breather" on the north side of trees in our farmyard. 

As Randy was planting wheat last week, he found that the shelterbelts bordering the field also had the fall equivalent of miniature runways as the orange and black flying machines seemed to practice touchdowns and takeoffs like a student pilot practicing his/her craft. (It's not a good photo, but it sort of shows how we needed an air traffic controller for all the activity.)


I got one shot with multiple butterflies, but there definitely wasn't overcrowding in our annual Air bnb.


With the north wind, the butterflies seem to have departed for warmer climes after more than a week sheltering in our tree lines. I sure hope next year's monarchs will hear that "whispered memory" that brings them back to Central Kansas.

And I hope their ancestors stop by our pastures next spring to lay some eggs in the milkweed.

Ninnescah Pasture, June 2020

Dr. Orley “Chip” Taylor has been watching the populations of this large orange butterfly for years. He heads Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas, a group that coordinates the efforts of civilians and young students to tag monarch butterflies across the United States and Canada.

Monarch butterflies are not cold hardy and cannot survive our freezing winters. However, they are one of very few insect species that can feed on milkweed.

This milkweed bloomed in our pastures this summer.

Milkweed is cold hardy, with milkweed species growing all the way into Canada. Therefore the monarch butterflies fly north each year to take advantage of this milkweed food source.


Each spring, the adult butterflies that have overwintered begin flying north and laying eggs on milkweed. These generations of monarchs stair-step their way until some reach Canada.
With the approach of winter, they must fly south again.
On goldenrod - From Kim's County Line - September 2016
Unlike small rare butterflies that may depend on a single rare flower only found on a California mountaintop, the monarch butterfly is dependent on larger numbers of flowers during migration in order to sustain its migrating population, Taylor said.
The monarch butterfly is a “celebrity species” that attracts the attention of citizens concerned with preserving nature, Taylor said. This means that there are many online websites with information on the monarch butterfly—some of it accurate and some inaccurate. One accurate site is Monarch Watch
My friend, Pam, who I call my resident wildlife consultant, works for Kansas Wetlands Education Center. She discovered a roost of Monarchs in cottonwoods and willows along a channel at the nature center located near Great Bend. What a sight!

Pam produced this video of the "travelers." Check it out!


Yesterday, Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (which is only a few miles away from our house) posted a photo of monarchs from this past weekend near the Education Center there. If only I'd known ...

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Wonder Book of Nature

 It is an incalculable added pleasure to anyone's sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder book of nature. 

President Theodore Roosevelt
Quoted by a park ranger at Mount Rushmore
Evening flag retirement & lighting, September 9, 2020 
I was picturing a buffalo bull standing majestically on gently rolling hills of South Dakota, with seasonal grasses subtly signaling the transition to fall.
Instead, my first glimpse of a buffalo at Custer State Park was next to a picnic area. But it didn't keep me from snapping away with my camera, joining a bunch of other wildlife paparazzi. (I was safely ensconced in my car at the time because I'm a rule follower. Those people over on the bridge must not have seen the signs.)

"Not what I was hoping for," I lamented to my faithful chauffeur as we drove away. 
We were nearing the end of the wildlife loop at Custer State Park before we saw any other buffalo or wildlife of any kind.
Randy made a new friend.
This young burro seemed to give me the Greta Garbo treatment, "I want to be alone." As you can see, we weren't the only visitors stopped along the roadway. People literally were weaving around them on the road to continue their journey. They reminded me of cattle who sometimes have to be nudged from a feed bunk with the fender of the pickup.

The wild burros (who didn't appear so wild anymore) trace their roots to a herd that once hauled visitors to the top of Harney Peak. At the rate they move these days, it would take awhile.
This stretch of road also featured a landscape dotted with buffalo. OK, maybe I have to tell you that's what they are. But I did get the interesting sky and those rolling South Dakota hills I was talking about.

 The buffalo didn't seem too concerned about the traffic jam in their neighborhood.

This coming weekend, September 24-26, Custer State Park will have even more spectators. But they'll get to see the buffalo on the move as cowboys and cowgirls roundup and drive the herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo to corrals for health checks, branding and sorting. It would be a sight to see - as long as you could find a place among some 20,000-plus people expected to gather to watch.

On second thought, I'm just as happy with our more solitary viewing - even if it wasn't particularly dramatic.

Sightseeing wasn't really on the agenda for our trip to South Dakota. However, we did manage to check out some sights during our arrival and departure. And, yes, I was the country bumpkin taking photos of farm things found in downtown Rapid City after supper.

Our trip took us through portions of the Black Hills National Forest ...

One of several one-car tunnels on the twisty road
... and Wind Cave National Park. (Randy was the one who wanted to stand by the signs. Really, I didn't make him!)

We also drove through part of the Badlands on the way to Rapid City. Randy really wanted to use his Senior Pass to the National Parks system.

It's kind of been burning a hole in his pocket, so to speak. (My parents used to say that about birthday money acquired by one of my siblings who shall remain nameless.)


It was an overcast morning, but there was still mysterious beauty in the landscape.

Beauty on the landscape, but just a couple of old Kansans in the foreground. 

 And speaking of Kansas things, I had to take a photo of a sunflower, too. The background didn't look much like home though.

The Badlands is another one of those "you've-got-to-see-it-to-believe-it" places. 
It's also a place where amateur photos just don't capture how beautiful it truly is (kind of like Grand Canyon photos). 

But, of course, that didn't keep me from attempt after attempt. This was our third time to drive through portions of the Badlands. But it's different every time because of the lighting and the season.

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright wrote in 1935: "I've been about the world a lot and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Badlands. What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere - a distant architecture, ethereal ... and an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it."


It's amazing how much the landscape changes from one overlook to the next - from browns, to reds to yellows and tints in between. The Lakota Indians knew the place as mako sica. Early French trappers called the area les mauvaises terres a traverser. Both mean "bad lands."

They may be "bad lands." But they sure are pretty.


We had a pretty stop at the Valentine (Nebraska) National Wildlife Refuge, too. 

It may not have been a long stop. But we still explored "the wonder book of nature" that Franklin Roosevelt was talking about. Thankfully, we're not far from that bestseller here at home either.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Beauty as Bread: Mount Rushmore


A park ranger at Mount Rushmore shared a 1912 quote from naturalist and author John Muir during the evening flag and lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. I didn't have pen and paper, but I jotted down enough notes on my phone that I could find the quote later:
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. 
John Muir, 1912
John Muir believed there was healing and sanctuary in beautiful places. We certainly found that to be true as we experienced the moving Mount Rushmore ceremony at twilight. Randy had spent the day at the hospice with his brother, Lyle. But he wanted to attend the ceremony.

We've been to Mount Rushmore twice before, but this would provide a different glimpse at the monument.  (See photos from those daytime trips here and here.)


There was still snow on the ground from an early-season storm as we nestled under a blanket to wait for the start. The cold and Covid combined to reduce the crowd for the ceremony, which is held beginning in late May through September 30 each year.  That made it easy enough to social distance.

Sunset doesn't occur directly behind the Founding Fathers. But the sunset sky still provided a splash of color as the sun sank below the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

Before it started, the park ranger said that veterans would be invited to come to the stage at the end to retire the flag for the evening. Looking at the small crowd, she was a little concerned, adding that veterans who weren't able to make the trek to the stage could send a representative.

But there was no need to worry. When she asked the veterans to congregate, 34 men and women streamed from the bleachers to the stage.
"The Star Spangled Banner" never sounded so beautiful as it did as our voices drifted upwards toward the lighted Founded Fathers. No, not every voice was in tune. It certainly didn't have the flourishes and frills added by most soloists these days at football stadiums or baseball venues throughout the country.

Instead, strangers from every region of the country sang together with one voice piercing the cold night air. With the giant flag slowly descending, the veterans stood at the feet of the flagpole, hands over their heart. The Founding Fathers seemed to peer wisely onto the scene. Considering the current atmosphere of political contention and intolerance for others, it was a moving moment in time.

Two days later, as we left Rapid City to head toward home, we decided to take a winding road on the outskirts of Custer State Park. It was another overcast day, but as we walked up to the viewing point, a little beam of sun highlighted the mountain. I didn't realize at first that I was looking at Mount Rushmore.
But as I used the Zoom on my camera, good old George, Thomas, Teddy and Abe popped into my viewfinder. It was another reminder of celebrating history and beauty.
It would do us all good to remember both.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Gone Fishin': Lyle Fritzemeier, 1958-2020

Warm Lake, Cascade, Idaho, taken in 2011

"Gone fishin'." 

Lyle Fritzemeier passed away during the early morning hours September 17, 2020, in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Warm Lake, Cascade, Idaho, taken in 2011

When Randy visited Lyle last week in the hospice, Lyle asked if Randy and I had gone fishing in South Dakota. He recommended it. No, we didn't have a chance. 

Payette River, south of Cascade, Idaho, 2011

But it made me think about going to some of Lyle's favorite fishing holes when we visited him in Cascade, Idaho, back in 2011.

At the time, he owned and operated the Pinewood Lodge Motel there.  (Click here to read about that trip and see more photos.)

When I was sorting photos, I also found a photo Lyle had taken at the Peace Creek pasture, which shows the bridge I mentioned earlier this week. It was the site of many childhood expeditions. Randy now has the photo over his desk.

When I posted the Peace Creek photo on Facebook this morning, one of those Hornbaker cousins (Pam) shared this memory:

Oh the stories to tell of deeds done here! The famous rocket tree, picking leeches from between our toes, the nest of owlets beneath the bridge, fishing with string and a safety pin and never understanding why we were such unlucky fishermen, and the hundreds of miles racing our bikes down those sandy roads.
Pam Hornbaker Turner
I thanked Pam for the word picture she painted - a glimpse at my husband's childhood. He's a man of few words. Even though he mentioned Peace Creek as a favorite memory, he didn't provide such vivid details as Pam. She also made this observation:
I was thinking that if we were kids today, we’d have a million selfies of all those deeds, but I don’t think I have even one photo of the 5 of us together (6 with Kathy, but she was never in on the bridge escapades)!

It's true. I couldn't find one photo of the neighborhood hooligans who visited the Peace Creek bridge. But I did find a few more photos from their childhood tucked into the pages of scrapbooks compiled by Marie, their mom. 

Lyle, 3 years old
Big helpers - Randy & Lyle, undated photo
Randy & Lyle, undated Christmas
Lyle & Randy - They've always loved animals. Undated photo

Randy, Lyle, Kathy - Christmas 1969

Lyle - Stafford High School Senior - 1976

Thank you for your care and concern for Randy and their sister, Kathy. It is truly a blessing to have such wonderful friends and family.

Sibling Trip - 2015

Lyle Ray Fritzemeier 

Gone fishin': April 12, 1958 - September 17, 2020