Butterflies Are Free Quilt Story

Butterfly quilt.
Quilters Mary Olsen, Marian Brincken, Myrna Atkinson and Mary Rachsler.
Shell Lake, Wisconsin, USA –

A year ago, in January 2009, the Sit and Chat Quilters of Friendship Commons Senior Center began stitching a butterfly quilt as a fundraiser for Happy Tonics, Inc.

 The nonprofit 501(c)(3)environmental education organization and public charity implemented a Monarch Butterfly Habitat on city land in 2007.

 The elders wanted to donate a quilt for a fundraiser to help maintain the habitat.  The restored remnant tall grass prairie boasts native wildflowers and grasses for pollinating insects including butterflies, moths and bees.

The quilters celebrated their One Year Anniversary in January 2010.  It is hard to believe that the ladies are about half way finished with the project.  They meet weekly and work on the quilt for 3 hours at a stretch.  Can you imagine having the patience and diligence to work on a project with this time requirement?  I am amazed by their dedication and persistence.

Mary Olsen
Mary Olsen telling fabric story.

I visited them yesterday, February 11, 2010.  I asked where the fabric came from.  Mary Olsen looked up and said, “We brought in fabric from our homes and matched colors we wanted in the quilt.”  Each butterfly has a story of course because each has a fabric history.  Nothing goes to waste when one is thrifty.  The quilters have lived through the depression, recessions and the booming 90s.  They know the value of sustainability and raising milkweed for the monarch butterfly.  The quilters surely know the value of not throwing things away.

The frame.
The frame story.

Curt Atkinson drives Myrna to the center each week because his wife doesn’t drive.  He helps her unload the frame each week and then the frame is setup by the quilters.

 Myrna explained that the long boards for the frame were donated by Angie Klopp, a quilter up to a few years ago.  No longer able to get about, Angie now resides at Terraceview Living Center in Shell Lake.  Even the frame has a story.

Myrna called me last night to say, “The quilt is 93 inches x 103 inches.  There are 42 big butterflies in the middle and 28 little ones around the edge.”

Stay tuned.  The Butterflies are Free quilt will be auctioned off after it is completed.  Happy Tonics members and friends will have an opportunity to help support the Monarch Butterfly Habitat in Shell Lake with an online auction in our eBay store.  Visit the store at http://happytonics.org/store/ where we sell milkweed seed, books, and clothing that supports our mission.


Butterflies and Gardens Newsletter Volume 4 issue 4

Monarch butterfly on milkweed. Photo by Cindy Dyer of Dyer Design
Milkweed is the only host plant of the monarch butterfly

The fall 2009 issues of Butterflies and Gardens is ready for viewing at below link. 


Our Graphic Artist Cindy Dyer, Vice President of Happy Tonics, Inc. publishes the newsletter for Happy Tonics.  Please leave comments and let us know what you think of our blog version.

Thank you, Mary Ellen Ryall, Executive Director, Happy Tonics, Inc.

Atlantis to land with monarch butterflies by Mary Ellen Ryall

Monarch butterfly pupa in space
Three monarch butterfly pupa in space

Atlantis is about to land in Florida on 27 November 2009.  Three monarch butterfly caterpillars went along for the ride.  Here is a photo of them in the pupa stage on the space shuttle.  The photo was taken on Thanksgiving Day, 26 November, 2009.  Indeed I give thanksgiving that they made it far from Earth, their home, and that no harm came to them while they where in outer space and changed from caterpillar to pupa.

Butterflies are free.  They live in the natural world in Canada, USA and Mexico.  They fly but not in outer space.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars in Space by Mary Ellen Ryall

Monarch caterpillars in outer space

Monarch caterpillar
Monarch caterpillar climbing a milkweed plant.

Please watch the youtube video Monarch caterpillars in outer space.  Why are we doing this?  Does the butterfly not have enough challenges on Earth without sending it into space?

This reminds me of the poor monkeys who were sent into space by the Russians when I was a young woman.

According to Wikipedia, “The Soviet/Russian space program in the Bion program satellites used only rhesus species.  The first Soviet monkeys, Abrek and Bion, flew on Bion 6. They were aloft from December 14, 1983 – December 20, 1983.”

Now it is monarch caterpillars.  Just look at the poor things.  I don’t believe they even know what is happening to them.  The experiment appears to promote monarch biology in the classroom and also studies the life cycle of the butterfly in outer space and affect of loss of gravity and weightlessness at the same time. 

Butterflies are free.  We build habitat for the monarch butterfly and sell milkweed seed (their host plant) so they might live.  Happy Tonics is building a floral corridor across the USA so the butterfly will have abundant host and nectar sources along its migration route.  We have a Monarch Butterfly Habitat in Shell Lake, Wisconsin.  If you go outside surely you will see that they live in a natural world.  They fly but not in outer space.

Photo copyright by Mary Ellen Ryall. 

A Child’s Butterfly Poem

Monarch pupa
A monarch pupa showing wings within the pupa which is translucent now.

Deanna S. won 3rd place for her butterfly poem.  The writers contest was hosted by the Indianhead Writers Group of Shell Lake, Wisconsin.  The event took place at Spooner Agricultural Research Station in Spooner, Wisconsin, on October 19, 2009

I love butterflies… because of their color.  Some are purple, some have black and orange.  One day I saw a butterfly hatching out of a cocoon.  The cocoon cracked and the butterfly’s wings were dripping brown liquid… and then it stretched its wings.  Two hours later it flew away.

by Deanna S., Age 7

In Search of the Emperor by Mary Ellen Ryall

Pavon Emperor (Doxocopa pavon)  Butterfly of Colombia, South America
Copyright permission from Kim Davis & Mike Stangeland of Butterflies of America website at http://butterfliesofamerica.com/
It was 2008 when I met Jose Rodriquez, a nine year old barefooted souvenir seller, in San Agustin, Colombia.  He was standing in the plaza.  The church bells were ringing and the sky was ablaze in an orange sunset.  I was on my way to Mass at the old adobe Catholic church near the square.  I stopped and asked, “What are you selling?”  He responded, “Real butterfly cards.”  He asked my name and I answered, “Brenda Estella.”  Curious I questioned him, “Where did you get the butterflies?”  Jose responded, “I catch them.  Sometimes the butterfly is old and the foreigners who ask me to catch butterflies don’t want them.  I save what I can, pull off the wings, attach them to paper with glue and sell butterfly cards to tourists.”  And so began my undercover work into butterfly pouching and smuggling in Colombia.

My employer is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). We investigate to be sure exporters have the proper license to export endangered species on the Appendix II butterflies list.  At times the thieves are active scientists or retired scientists who research butterflies at universities around the world.  Others are pouches who snatch endangered species for private collectors in Europe, Japan and the United States.  Many times a poacher will get to know and hire a local peasant to do their field work.  I asked Jose, “How did you get involved with butterflies?”  He said, “A man from Miami comes to Colombia twice a year and buys what I have collected.  Often he pays me eight dollars for each butterfly and he buys a lot of insects.”  To a peasant this is enough money to support a family in a country that is economically depressed.  Child labor is common in Third World countries.  I asked, “Do you expect to see him anytime soon?”

Jose answered, “Matter of fact, he is here in our Andean village now.”  San Agustin is home to orchids and an archeology park of stone sculptures dating between AD 100 and 1200. The park is now a UNESCO’s World Heritage Place.  The mountainous village at 7,000 feet is also home to coffee and banana subsistence farmers.  Agricultural doesn’t pay as much money as coca leaves for export.  Drug wars have torn San Agustin apart with fear, drug lords and animal poachers.  I know my prey is Federico Perez, a wanted butterfly thief, and I am ready to start surveillance.  In this high tech world, I use a laptop computer for research, documentation, and staying in touch with CITES.  I use GPS for finding locations and a high power camera lens to photograph the enemy without his knowing.  I have to pretend that I am a butterfly collector and gain his trust before I am able to persuade him to show his collection. 

I learn he is staying at Senora Munos home where we both have lodging.  At dinner, we struck up a conversation and got acquainted with each other.  Mrs. Munos announced, “Senorita Estella is a butterfly collector.”  After dinner Federico asked, “So what are you really doing in San Agustin?”  I answered, “I am here to collect an Emperor and take it back to the United States.”  Federico in a coconspirator kind of way asked, “Would you like to see my butterfly collection.”  I said, “Yes,” and he went to his room to fetch his collection.  Federico showed me not only the Emperor but some endangered species on the Appendix II butterflies list.  He told me, “This is my last night.  I am boarding a plane in Bogota tomorrow for Miami.” Obtaining the critical information I needed, I called my employer, CITES, who will meet him at the airport with a warrant for his arrest if he doesn’t have the proper license for exporting butterflies.  Federico caught the plane the next day and landed in Miami without incident.  The customs agent on duty had already been alerted to the butterfly sting operation and searched his luggage.  Within the pages of a book, The Dangerous World of Butterflies, the agent found the butterfly collection and no license for exporting them.  CITES agents were on him within a minute and took him into custody.  This is now one less poacher on the streets but my job in Colombia is not over yet.  We are in a Third World country doing our best to save the beloved butterfly from extinction.