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.
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.
Continuing story. Latest updates are below at bottem of this post.
Ju;y 2, 2011 Storm saga: The temperature was about 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the valley yesterday. Late afternoon I went outside and felt a few rain drops falling. I raised my eyes and arms up to the sky and silently said, “Thank you.” The vegetable gardens needed rain. It was too hot and I knew the rain barrel was near empty. I would be grateful for rain and lower temperature. Midwesterners in Northwest Wisconsin are not used to torturous heat. Besides, I have Lymn’s disease again and not supposed to be out in the sun for the next 21 days while on antibiotics. Instead of working I decided to walk down the street.
I can’t help it. I am an Earthy woman who loves and lives within the elements. My passion is gardening and butterflies. I am more at home outside than in and have always been this way since childhood. When it started to rain more consistently, I turned around and headed home.
I observed clouds coming from the south. They could be viewed at the top of the Minong hills and looked like an impenetrable wall. I puzzled why were the clouds so low to the ground? I didn’t feel alarmed in that moment simply curious. I did not know that something significant was about to happen. I walked inside the house and began to watch a Netflix movie in the living room. While spread out on a sleeping bag, all of a sudden the electricity went off. Loud groaning and tearing sounds mixed with high wind pitch. The sounds were beyond any beyond anything I had ever heard. I got up and walked to the only space on the main floor that doesn’t have windows.
There I waited in a darkened hallway. I felt and heard the bones of my aged redwood home creaking and moaning and knew that the structure was being tested. The high winds roared down the chimney. I could hear the wind in the attic above me. At the same time, some knowledge more ancient than I made me realize that I was protected by a healing blanket around me. I was not afraid. I felt secure in this thought. With my bare feet firmly placed on the floor I felt connected to earth. I reached for the water pendent necklace hanging from a nail in the hallway and felt the water totem would protect me now. I grabbed the necklace and put it on. I held onto it and knew matter how forceful the rain and wind were, I would be safe.
My Facebook friend Worth Cooley Prost had given me a glass pennant neckland as a gift. She creates glass water jewelry. Worth is immersed in ceremony before and throughout the creative process. Her Earthly role is honoring and loving water especially oceans. I have not met Worth yet. I know her through mutual water work. I am a council guide for the Sisterhood of the Planetary Water Rites headquartered in California. Women carry the responsibility of honoring the gift of water. It is a woman’s role to protect water. The Sisterhood was formed to embrace water and to teach others to be grateful for the gift. Water is not a commodity that can be bought, sold or traded. It is a gift. Women share the role so that we can protect fresh water for present and future generations.
Notes: Thoughts on losing pine trees and birch. Bonding with an adult monarch as I lightly held my hand out and she walked on my fingers to reach nectar. Precious moment. A few weeks ago, I saw a mother monarch lay eggs on milkweed in this colony. The property maintenance people mowed over it a few days later. I hadn’t protected it quite fast enough. I did see that some of the milkweed continued to grow and quickly, low fencing was bought. This time by golly, I was going to fence the colony off. Today I witnessed the first monarch caterpillar to survive in this very patch of milkweed. Last year, July 4, 2010, I lost my husband to cancer.
July 5 – My friend Janice Organ contacted me via Facebook asking if she could help. Janice came today from Shell Lake. Both of us worked all morning to rake the back property and to pick up limbs and twigs. I feel so much better knowing that at least the open lawn areas are cleared of debris.
Janice Organ helps with storm clean up.
We had some transforming conversation too. Janice was able to see a mother robin teaching her fledgling to fly and also to pick juneberries ripening on a tree. It was thrilling to internalize the message. We all must learn to trust ourselves and fly. The old world order is becoming obsolete with deteriorating natural resources, diminishing world fresh water supply and humans being disconnected to the very natural world that supports life. What is needed now is to learn about sustainability of the changing environment and to find ourselves within the natural world order.
“Evidence of significant patterns of change over the past 10,000 years confirms that substantial ecosystem changes can occur as a result of changes in climate. Presuming future changes occur to the same extent as past changes, tribes that trace their ancestry to the wooded regions will slowly become overtaken by grasslands. Such that the entire nature of place for many Native peoples is likely to change.” Source: Climate Change Impacts on the United States. Chapter 12 – Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change by Schuyler Houser, Verna Teller, Michael MacCracken, Robert Goughs, and Patrick Spears.
The city crews came today to cut and remove some of the street laden fallen trees. I am grateful to them and the new Board members who are making sure that village residents are helped with the cleanup. It is massive. Did I tell you about Hoppy (sp) who works for electric company? He made sure after being three days without electricity that my neighbors across the street were given higher priority because my friend Henrietta needed oxygen. My roof and electric pipe on the roof are damaged so Hoppy made sure I had a temporary wire hookup so I too would have electricity now. What wonderful people who you can count on where there is a natural disaster.
July 6, 2011 – Grandmother Tonya Whitedeer recently published portions of this article in the July issue of the Sisterhood of the Planetary Water Rites Newsletter. She said, “Mary Ellen called me the morning after this act devastation…at first I was amazed at her bravery and calmness…but then I realized that she understands the prophecies and knows that we are in the midst of them now…these are the changes that are preparing for a New Earth to be reborn. If we stand in our Trust as Mary Ellen did and stand also upon and within her sacred space of Truth…we can all be survivors and teachers for our Mother Earth…AHO…. Grandmother Whitedeer
Shell Lake: April 23 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Monarch Butterfly Habitat, pergola at 1 p.m. Monarch poetry reading, Jeff Lewis. Dakota Robinson, short talk on the butterfly plight. Dr. John Anderson and Ginger Wilcox will lead us in a Native American Ceremony to Honor Native Habitat. Photo of thunderbolt drum appropriate in 2010. It rained and we gave thanks. Northwest Wisconsin had been in a seven year drought.
2 p.m. Reception, Community Center on the lake: Speaker: Ken Parejko author of Monarch of the Butterflies. Parejko is Professor Emeritus of Biology at University of Wisconsin, Stout. Music: New Editions Band. Lunch will be local and mostly organic. Environmental and community displays will introduce visitors to the array of sustainable living practices. Happy Tonics will have a vendor’s table and two raffles: An award-winning Butterfly Quilt made by the Stitch and Chat Quilters of Friendship Commons and an outstanding wood crafted handmade dollhouse by anonymous donor. Signup sheet will encourage participants to Volunteer at Happy Tonics Monarch Butterfly Habitat and Visitors Center/Store. Admission: $1.00, donation for lunch.
Welcome to Spring Tea – Friendship Commons, Shell Lake, 118 4th Avenue, Shell Lake, May 16 at 2 p.m. The tea will be hosted by Diane Dryden. Julie Symond, My Favorite Things, 23 Fifth Avenue, is donating a darling tea pot as a door prize. Diane will surprise us with a splash of delectable treats and teas and introduce guests to tea origins and history. She is well versed in etiquette of tea. Over the years, she has delighted many people with her creative cuisine and teas. We invite seniors to dress up; wear hats and gloves if they choose. This could be a fun opportunity to put on old-fashioned attire that you have been saving for a special event. Dress code not required. Just come and enjoy a time to reminisce at the Welcome to Spring Tea. Cost: $5.00 ($4 towards expense and $1.00 for Senior Center). Please call (715) 468-4750 to register.
Sponsored by Happy Tonics and Shell Lake Friendship Commons.
April is National Volunteer month. Happy Tonics would like to invite seniors to sign up to volunteer a day a week or once a month at the Visitors Center/Store at 25 Fifth Avenue, Shell Lake. Perhaps you are interested in assisting at the youth garden and Environmental Education Film Series this summer at Shell Lake’s Friendship Commons. We plan to expand the youth container garden this summer in Shell Lake with grants from Leopold Education under the umbrella of Pheasants Forever and Washburn County AODA Commission. Call Mary Ellen at (715) 468-2097 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I just watched a beautiful You Tube post on dolphins and a Meditation that calls each and every one of us to realize how very precious water is. Today I was very thirsty and I went to an artesian well in the woods. The water doesn’t flow freely as it once did 2 years ago. The water table is dropping and instead of gushing out of the ground it is about half speed now.
I felt so happy to be in this happy woods filled with wildflowers and water crest growing in the stream but sad too and worried and wondered what if the bubbling water just quit?
What if it goes dry because we are in the 8th year of drought and even though we have had good rain this year, the water table is still low.
I stood there and sang a water ceremony song to honor the water and tell the water I loved her. You see women are the protectors of water. I am a council member of the Sisterhood of Planetary Water Rites that was founded by Grandmother T. Whitedeer in California. This is the time for all women to intercede and pray for the global waters which are at risk in so many places.
Native Wildflower and Butterfly Garden, Shell Lake, Wisconsin as time permits I will add photos
June 19 – First sighting of a monarch caterpillar in area one. Saturday worked in area three for 2 hours.
June 20 – Rains off and on over the next few days.
June 21 – I showed Elizabeth Haasl the monarch caterpillar.
June 23 – It rained like a tropical storm and I worried about the little thing.
June 24 – When I checked area one for the monarch caterpillar, I didn’t see it on the milkweed at 8 a.m. It was wet out. It rained last night and I thought perhaps it was hiding. At 10 a.m. Elizabeth, a volunteer, walked through this area and saw the caterpillar on the milkweed. I am happy because we are closely watching to ensure the little creature has enough milkweed to eat.
The Memory Tree Grove at the north Monarch Butterfly Habitat in Shell Lake was completely overrun with grass and spotted knapweed in June. Elizabeth Haasl, a young volunteer has been diligently pulling the invasive species in area three for three weeks now. I tackle the grass as high as my knees. As of today one can see that there is a walking circle with a central wild black cherry tree and parameter trees. We planted chokecherry and staghorn suman in 2008. The cherry trees seem to be healthy but the sumac pretty much died. We planted a large wild black cherry tree in the center of the Memory Tree Grove in 2009 and it is doing beautifully and even has fruit that hasn’t been eaten by the birds. While I was weeding today, I noticed a dead stump of a sumac mother plant, hidden among the weeds, which was planted in 2008. The parent had sent out runners which are now two healthy young sumac trees. Think of it. The transplanted sumac may have known that it would not transplant successfully so it sacrificed itself. I love this kind of survival story. At least her DNA got passed down to the next generation.
Area three – Today we put down some red and white clover and added some good rich dark soil. Then we tapped down the seed by walking on it to force it to settle into the ground. The idea is to remove the invasive species, add a legume to add nitrogen to the soil and then this fall or next spring we will put down native seed in this area. We can’t transplant in this area because there are natural gas lines running through on this side.
The Three Sisters Garden looks great. I want to put down some fresh mowed grass as ground cover the next time they mow at Lakeland Manor. Or perhaps I can bring back some straw from Minong. The tiny butterfly weed that I transplanted from hydroponics experiment is thriving and growing in two places in area two and three. Elizabeth showed me a Hidatsa bean when she opened the shell and it was beautiful beige with reddish tones on white.
At 2:30 p.m. I rode my bike over to habitat and saw the caterpillar on the underside of a milkweed leaf. It is twice as big as it was a few days ago.
I saw that prairie purple clover is coming up in area one to the left of the bench. I see lots of gray head coneflower growing also. Is this from seed that was planted in 2008 and only germinating this year because of rain? Interesting! I have been told that some of this seed that we planted in 2008 could stay in the soil for 100 years before germinating. It waits until the conditions are just right for it to grow and regenerate. Love this earth science and lessons from the field. I find it unlikely that seed could have blown this far seeing as it is not a wind carrying seed. Perhaps a bird ate the seed and flew over this spot depositing seed.
June 25 – It looked like it was going to rain early this morning. I went to the habitat at 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and that is the moment the rain began to fall. I sang OmMa Ka Om as the rain fell. I know we are being especially blessed with rain this year. Tabitha told me her mother was doing rain ceremony for us also. When I walked into area one, I headed straight for the milkweed that is home to monarch caterpillar one but I didn’t see it anywhere on the plant.
I love to get here in the early morning when I have a little time to myself. Elizabeth arrived at about 8:30 a.m. and she looked ill. I asked her mother to take her home until she feels well. She most likely overdid it in the heat on Thursday after I left for home.
I am pleased with the mulch we ordered from Pederson’s Nursery. I am pea green with envy at the money the condos have to put down mulch. The nursery dumped hundreds of dollars of deep, rich mulch in their native gardens and it looks weedless. I only had $50 and to me it was worth it so Peterson’s gave us a half of a truck load. The purpose is to put mulch around the shrubs that we planted in 2008, 2009 and this year. The trees and shrubs’ were dressed with wood chips around them but it was recommended we change over to wood chipped mulch. I am also cutting back the tall native grass around the shrubs which are planted on the highway side so that eventually people will see them as they drive by. We want the shrubs to grow as privacy screens. This year some of the Ninebark flowered as well as the Juneberry. I can’t wait to see them set fruit in the fall. I worked in the first part of area three. One step at a time.
June 26 – It is Saturday morning and I will meet Bob Hasman at the habitat. Tyler H. came to volunteer today. He is a student at Shell Lake High School and appears to be a very curious and bright young man. I asked what he was reading as he was walking towards me on the ATV trail and he said, “Plato.” This is the kind of person that is attracted to our work in conservation, they are bright and educated. He worked for an hour pulling spotted knapweed, an invasive species.
I was clipping some of the tall native Brome that was growing near the ninebark shrubs in the far end of area two. I noticed that one of these shrubs had fruit forming. I need to photograph this. It appears that some yellow graybead seed must have scattered here because I found new first year growth.
A part time resident who lives on the east side of Shell Lake came to visit the habitat. She asked me if any monarchs were around. Both Tyler and I saw what we presumed to be a male monarch because he didn’t light for long. Every time we were near, he would fly up from the grasses and hoary asslum. I suspected he was trying to catch a female with the sporadic behavior.
I invited Josie (the part-time resident on the lake) to come to area one and see the monarch caterpillar on the milkweed. This is day eight and my how it has grown. The one I shot on Friday (I believe) happens to be a younger caterpillar and both of them are on the same plant. I may need to do a rescue tomorrow or Monday and put the smaller one on another milkweed. Caterpillars are cannibalistic and I don’t want to lose a caterpilar simply because they are competing for the same source food. I am already wondering if the caterpillar can taste the difference between milkweed plants.
Black-eyed Susan is starting to bloom as a colony in the start of area two.
June 27 – I rode my bike over to the habitat at 6 p.m. because I simply couldn’t wait to see what the two caterpillars were up to. I looked closely at the milkweed and didn’t see either one of them. Could they have wandered off to find safety for the night? I did see lots of birds flying over to roost in trees for the night and know they like to eat caterpillars but find out they are not tasty. Even so, they have been known to try.
I saw a spinx moth. It was tiny and orange in color. The wings were moving so fast I didn’t have but a moment with the night pollinator. Saw Four-O-Clocks finally in bloom for the first time. Dropped the digital camera and lost one battery so I unable to photograph much. It is curious about the Four-o-Clock because I am an early bird and work outside in the morning. I don’t usually go out to the habitat in late afternoon so the spinx moth and four-o-clock have alluded me at the habitat until today.
There is red root amaranth growing in area two in the dark rich black earth given to us by Bill Campbell of Campbell’s Country Store and Farm. I noticed that there were several other wild edibles growing here also. I picked some Lamb’s Quarter to property identify. There was Purslane and Chickweed that I will write about in depth later. There is this grass with red to purple seeds when sun hits it. I don’t have a good native grass book and will check the library to see if I can find good photos so I can identify this and other native grasses. The seeds are airy and delicate looking.
The tall grasses had tawny-edged skippers settling down for a night rest in the tall grasses. They appear to be solitary but can gather on individual grasses near each other. It is pretty to see them in the early morning sleeping contentedly. Then along came a white cabbage butterfly trying to find the just right spot to hunker down for the night. She settled on a hoary asslum that has white flowers. Butterflies know how to camouflage themselves.
I could hear the trees rustling across the street and the crickets. The habitat is alive with sound. The City owns the land next to the habitat and keeps it mowed, thank goodness because there is so much invasive spotted knapweed. The downside is that nothing can live in this monoculture, not a bee or cricket.
June 28 – I was at the habitat at 8 a.m. and several observations that make being alone in nature such a wondrous experience. I thought that the red tinge growing in the 3 sisters garden was the Hopi amaranth I seeded. It turns out it is the red root amaranth. I was so surprised when I looked at the black earth mound with amaranth growing in the pile. I pulled one up and saw that indeed it was red root amaranth. I brought some home today and steamed it for the community pot luck. The residents must have enjoyed it because there was none left when I finished working with the IT intern.
I put straw down near the three sisters garden to hold moisture and keep the weeds at bay. I didn’t see the caterpillars at this time and I thought perhaps it was because it was cloudy. It rained at 9 a.m. I walked in area two with a small sparrow. I was doing mindful walking, the sparrow was pecking for seed and it was a joy to keep within his company for at least 3-4 minutes. Other sparrows come too for the grass seed. I was watching because it looked like sparrow one jumped on a hoary asslum. Was it trying to dislodge something? The plant hadn’t gone to seed yet.
As I worked I thought of Margaret Lynk, my elder Ojibwe friend, who told me years ago, “Let nature teach you. When people come to look at the habitat they need to train their eyes to behold the littlest of life happening. You have to have eyes to see it. One person recently said, “I drive by on Route 63 and it looks so pretty.” My response was, “You need to come into the habitat and walk the butterfly wing shaped path to see the life within.”
At 4 p.m. I stopped by the habitat to check again for the caterpillars. The sun was shining but still no caterpillars. My heartvfelt a tug. Should I have removed the littler caterpillar and placed it on another milkweed on Saturday when I saw that two caterpillars were on the same milkweed? Number one looked like it was big and may have been ready to start pupating. These are thoughts that make us conscious when we bond with a butterfly. I ask myself, “Could I have saved it?” Eunice Smith who rescues and raises monarchs in Florida experiences the same kind of bonding with her butterflies. Then there was Cindy Broesch of Rice Lake who wanted to know was it best to gather milkweed pods, save and clean the seed and scatter it or was it better to make sure caterpillars had enough milkweed during its caterpillar stage? It is an ethical issue and I can understand the part of making sure caterpillars have enough milkweeds so they don’t have to compete. The caterpillar faces many challenges in its life AND I NEED TO ADDRESS THIS.
On 24 April 2010 Happy Tonics held the III Annual Earth Day Event in Shell Lake at the Native Wildflower and Butterfly Garden. This year it did not snow like it did in 2008 but it rained. Heaven smiled upon us in sending the rains in the 7th year of drought.
We all took a pinch of tobacco and offered our good thoughts along with tobacco to the Ojibwe birch bark basket. Then Dr. John Anderson offered prayers to the Creator in thanksgiving for the rain and we dedicated our ceremony “To honor the bees.”
John taught the audience that man once honored all the four legged, finned and winged relatives. Somehow we have become disconnected. He gave an example of how the dog dances when he sees you return safely home. Every one with loving smiles looked at the dog he was speaking about. The four-legged one just listened intently to John speaking .
Ginger Wilcox gave a message as she held the sacred Eagle Feather. We need to protect and honor the pollinators. The Earth will survive without human beings.
Mother Earth knows how to protect herself. We must reconnect to Mother Earth and respect her so that human beings can survive too. We need to protect the butterflies, bees and native plants and stop destroying the natural world or there will be no natural resources for future generations.
Paul Schaefer spoke about beekeeping. He and his wife Beverly are beekeepers in Shell Lake, Wisconsin, USA. The pure and organic honey that they produce is absolutely delicious. There is an urgent need for younger generation to get involved in beekeeping. Without bees, we will have no food. Native bees are also in decline including four species of the beloved bumble bee. Xerces Society is a good start to learn about native bees and beekeeping. The local lunch was made possible by a grant from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board.
The Wednesday Sit and Stitch Quilt Group made this handmade butterfly quilt as a Fundraiser for Happy Tonics. It took the senior ladies a year to complete the project and the quilt was on display for the Earth Day attendees to view. It will be auctioned off online or through a raffle later this summer. First the quilt is being entered into the 100th Anniversary Fair in Spooner, Wisconsin, this summer. We surely hope this beautiful quilt wins a ribbon.
The last message of the day is that we must all do our part to protect Mother Earth for the next 7 generations.
Let us plant host and nectar plants for the pollinators so that Baby Eden will have a natural world when she grows up.