Rainy Day Tales

It was a humid, rain-soaked summer morning. My dog Tia and I went for a walk on a dirt road near our home in the village of Minong, Wisconsin. No one used the road, and we had the woodlands and prairie all to ourselves, just the way we liked it. Problems disappeared when we were out in nature. The sun glistened, and occasionally small agate stones smiled back from the steamy earth. I stooped to pick one up and pocketed the tiny red gem.

Tia decided to go adventuring. Looking into a prairie, I saw my dog’s white-tipped tail waving in tall native grasses kissed by dewdrops.  She looked up as if checking on me. After seeing me, Tia went back to frolicking. After awhile, she returned to my side. We heard the sweet song of chick-a-dees in Jack pine trees. The birds were enjoying tree nuts and insects. We heard their Thanksgiving song. I knew that milkweed grew in a nearby field, and we went over to investigate and to see if any life was astir after the rain.

23rain - Copy  Bending down, I look on the underside of the milkweed leaves and saw a monarch caterpillar sleeping under the protection of the soft green roof. Rainbow-colored water drops dripped from its back, and still, the caterpillar slumbered. Did it dream that soon this part of its life would end? Soon the caterpillar would change into a pupa, and then a beautiful monarch butterfly. Did the butterfly come to tell us that we too would be transformed and emerge into a new form?

Sadly, Tia passed away in the fall, and my life changed dramatically and forever. I became an executive director of a nonprofit public charity, Happy Tonics, that implemented sanctuary for the monarch butterfly. My name was given to me by Dr. John “Little Bird” Anderson. In Ojibwe, I am called Memengwaaikwe, which means Butterfly Woman. Looking back on this rain-drenched morning, I know my life was transformed forever, just as the tiny messenger foretold.

NOTE: Notice of John “Little Bird” Anderson’s obituary is at http://www.pineviewfuneralservice.com/home/obituary/3808530

Photos: Tia and Dr. John “Little Bird” Anderson

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Dr. John (Little Bird) Anderson

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Response to Letter to the Editor – Happy Tonics Board and Officers

The Editorial article by Lauralei Anderson in the paper September 8, 2010 was submitted to Happy Tonics, Inc. officers and board in OH, MA, VA and WI. We agreed to the following response to Lauralei Anderson’s Editorial.

Letter to the editor, Washburn County Register

In regards to the letter sent by Lauralei Anderson from Cumberland, we at the Monarch Butterfly Habitat would like to respond to her criticism calling the habitat “an overgrown railroad bed.”

A native habitat is completely different from a typical garden, park or planting. There are no tulips and marigolds in nice neat rows because all the plants in the habitat are native to Wisconsin. This is a prime example of a restored tall grass prairie whose plants are the same ones that covered Wisconsin when the Conestoga wagons passed through carrying the pioneers west.

It was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that not only helped pick out the native seeds, but donated over $500 worth of seeds to the habitat and the Land and Water Conservation Department had a huge hand in the project also.

Native plantings always start out with common plants like the little and big blue stems which you call weeds. If the garden is healthy, the first native flowers begin to appear the third year. You mentioned in your letter that you saw some ‘scant black-eyed Susan’s, they are right on time. Within the next 5 years, more native flower species, the seeds of which were planted by professionals, will appear. Some native plants take years for their seeds to germinate and grow into plants.

Even though the habitat idea is new to many here in Shell Lake and the surrounding residents, it’s familiar to those who are familiar with Saulk County’s favorite son, Also Leopold and sites like Brighter Planet. The habitat has received grants from both organizations as well as numerous others that believe that if we don’t save the native plants for the two most important pollinators, the bees and butterflies, commercial crops and public and personal gardens will fail due to a lack of pollination. We will be starting to be official Wisconsin native seed savers this year, sending them throughout the United States.

Shell Lake is also on the direct floral corroder that runs from Canada to Mexico that offers food and rest to the millions of butterflies heading to their winter home in Mexico and yes, the butterflies often follow the highways, another reason for this perfect habitat site.

It’s often easy to criticize what we don’t understand, and this habitat was never meant to look like a ‘cute little garden,’ it’s a teaching tool that has already tied into Eco Tourism and we have given many tours this summer to a local audience as well as visitors from across our nation. The Monarch Habitat also sponsors Earth Day activities each year which encourage locals to buy locally.

Articles about the habitat have not only been published nationally, the habitat is also part of the international world with blog responders from 72 different countries who understand why it exists.

If you watch television, you will see the habitat featured on Discover Wisconsin three times during the next two years, starting March 2011. The habitat is all over their website and print material and calendars as well as the official Wisconsin Tourism Site.

All the beautiful little gardens you mentioned in your letter require constant up-keep from weeding to watering to fertilizing, to the applying of pesticides and for some, mowing.

The habitat is ‘green’ in more ways than one because native plants live with or without our help. The habitat leaves absolutely no carbon footprint.

We would encourage you to take a tour of this amazing place; to step back in history for a bit and enjoy the many kinds of butterflies that already visit the habitat daily.

Mary Ellen Ryall, Executive Director

Monitoring Native Species at the Native Wildflower and Butterfly Garden – August 2010

AUGUST 2010

 August 12 – Stonelake Garden Club came for a tour of the habitat. There were 33 women from the garden club and they enjoyed learning about forbs and grasses. The tall bluestem grass is over 6 feet tall and it is like walking through a tunnel in some areas where the rain drenched earth produced tall stands in the wettest part of the sandy prairie.

The week of August 9 – 14 so very hot that we didn’t work in the habitat.  The temperature is supposed to cool next week.  Looking forward to placing the sculpture art in the habitat.

August 18 – The sculpture art is still not in. It has been raining quite steadily for at least two weeks now.  I don’t mind. Matter of fact, I do a Nibi Wabo Water Ceremony to bless the tears of the sky.  The habitat is happy with singing crickets. I believe I heard a frog out there this early evening as I walked through area two.

I was happy to see monarch caterpillars on several milkweeds throughout the habitat today. I feel we have an incubator this year because the adult females have found that the habitat is for them.  I love to see the waving and pollinating grasses dressed in dripping gold and yellows dangling from the flower heads waving in the breeze.  There is nothing quite like it as I pause to gaze at ground covering purple Prairie dropseed, what might be a little bluestem and one beauty I still haven’t identified. 

The plant ID plaques are nearly all in place. The hand-made large standing bird house is looking good in area three. Brennan Harrington placed a wooded stand under it so it now stands a little taller than the split rail fence.

 August 23 – I agree with Corey Bradshaw, Conservation Biologist in Australia. Limited monitoring of species does not give the big picture to show any pattern of species biodiversity, one needs to look at the long and broad view. Please read his article at http://conservationbytes.com/2010/08/24/long-deep-broad/

None the less, we are making minute monitoring observations at least. I felt it was important to document what we are seeing as an environmental education organization. I wanted to show and tell what is happening to biodiversity of animals and plant species in the Restored Remnant Tallgrass Prairie which is a Monarch Butterfly Habitat in Shell Lake, Wisconsin, USA.

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