Stasia's Place Of Grace


Thursday, September 05, 2002


Today I would like to talk about courage.

First, if you are reading this page, please have the courage to just say "hi" in the TagBoard, so I know someone is actually visiting! Thanks!

I am glad I had the courage to try dyeing with the Goldenrod and Cosmos plants. I've updated my dyeing experiments page with the methods; click here for the instructions and the photos, including a new one of the Wensleydale, Mohair, and Brown Sheep white wool samples from the three Cosmos baths.

Next I am going to have the courage to try dyeing with False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), a yellow, native plant that's blooming all over our yard. I can't find any information on dyeing with it, or what it might produce, but I'm going to be brave and give it a shot.

Herman has a lot of courage. Yesterday, he had glued his tail to the ceiling of his jar. He got all "loose" looking, and was hanging there. Pretty soon, his antennae started to droop. I thought he was a goner.

Last night, Jeff noticed a change in Herman!

Yup, Herman is now a chrysalis! He will remain in this state, without any nourishment, for five days while his body undergoes a complete overhaul. It would be like a human returning to the womb!

Go, Herman, go! We're rooting for you!

I found out that Molnarch butterflies normally only live for a few weeks, except for the very last batch born in the summer, which (because of the cooler temperatures) do not mature completely. It is up to them to make the long flight to the butterfly wintering grounds in Mexico. And Herman is one of these!

Here are some interesting Monarch facts from the University of MN:

    Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) - Did you know that this is the only butterfly in North America that actually migrates in the fall to a warmer climate?

    Did you also know that the markings on most butterflies are there to scare off predators, specifically birds? The bright orange and black markings on the Monarch tells birds and other "would-be Monarch eaters" that the Monarch is poisonous. Do you know what makes them poisonous? It's what they eat - milkweed. The milkweed contains a chemical that birds can't stand. Monarchs are totally dependent on milkweed when they are in the larval stage. The most common milkweed species in Minnesota is, you guessed it, the Common Milkweed or Asclepias syriaca. All monarch eggs are laid only on milkweed plants. After the newly hatched Monarch larvae eat the egg they were laid in, the young caterpillars start eating the milkweed leaves. Monarch caterpillars eat like crazy until they grow about two-inches long. They even shed their skin (molt) up to four times while they're growing!

    Adult Monarch butterflies eat nectar from flowers. Flower nectar consists of about 20% sugar, which gives the Monarchs energy. Flowers that have lots of nectar are, of course, what Monarchs prefer. But you'll see them land on all kinds of flowers to take a sip. The Monarchs butterflies find flowers by site, but they decide if its worth eating through taste receptors that are on their feet! They suck up the nectar through a long tube-like mouth.

    Like all butterflies, Monarchs aren't born with wings. They actually go through four very different stages in their lives:

      1. Mom lays the egg. One female Monarch can lay up to 400 eggs.

      2. In a couple of days, the egg hatches and turn into a caterpillar with black, yellow and white stripes. A Monarch caterpillar can get kinda' fat and grow about two-inches long.

      3. Caterpillar makes a "house" called a chrysalis that is attached to a leaf or twig. The caterpillar makes this stuff that looks like silk and uses it to build the chrysalis. It attaches the base of the chrysalis to a sheltered spot under a leaf or twig and then hangs upside down in it for about five days. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar turns into a pupa. The chrysalis is really neat looking -- it has a shiny, light green color with a gold band near the top. The gold is irridescent looking. In the chrysalis, the pupa is going through some major physical changes.

      4. Butterfly breaks out of the chrysalis and is free to fly around and do what butterflies do.

    The four stages take about a month to complete. During an average Minnesota summer, this whole process can happen three or four times. This means that there can be three to four generations of Monarchs born in one summer. Most Monarch butterflies only live a few weeks - long enough to breed and lay eggs to start the cycle all over again.

    So if you think the metamorphosis was cool, just wait 'till you hear the next part. The last generation of Monarchs born during the summer are different. These are usually born in late August when the days get short and the temperatures start cooling down a bit. These changes prevent the Monarch butterflies from maturing enough to reproduce, so they live for about eight to nine months.

    But, have you every seen a Monarch butterfly in the winter in Minnesota? Of course not! So where did they go? They fly all the way down to Mexico to hang out during the winter! That's a long trip for Minnesota-born Monarchs - about 3,000 miles! Monarchs use the same route to go to the same place every winter. This place is in the Sierra Madre mountains west of Mexico City, Mexico.

    By now you're probably thinking, hey, Monarchs are just bugs! They can't read maps, so how do they know how to get to the exact same spot every fall? Scientists think that Monarchs use the position of the sun to tell them when to head for Mexico and how to get there. They think they also use the earth's magnetic field to help them figure out where to go.

    Before the migration begins, you can often see Monarchs in groups of five or more as they start their way south. But, there are some spots where lots more Monarchs get together before they start migrating.

    We all know that Monarchs can't fly very fast. So how do they travel all the way to Mexico? They use the natural air currents and thermals that are way up in the sky to get them to Mexico faster.

    When they get to Mexico, they hang out in huge numbers in forested areas. There are numerous sites in the Sierra Madre mountains where the Monarchs like to stay. But, in spite of efforts to protect them, many of these sites are being logged or damaged by people. When the damage is severe, the Monarchs don't have any place to stay.

    The Monarchs that survive the winter in Mexico start migrating back to the U.S. in the spring. They mate all along the way and find milkweed on which to lay eggs. These eggs hatch, and eventually turn into butterflies that continue migrating north. Monarchs are found all the way up into Canada.

    You can help protect Monarchs in Minnesota by planting a butterfly garden in your backyard. Plant flowers that give Monarchs food and be sure to include some milkweed!

This is a garden spider who lives by our shed. A few weeks ago, she was tiny, but now she has really grown!

Jeff's finger shows size of spider.

I think it's pretty courageous for a (relatively) little spider to set up housekeeping in the wilderness, and hope that food will conveniently fly by. This spider also has a lot of courage because she's not at all afraid when we get close to her to take a peek, or to feed her some insects Jeff has caught. (She wraps them up quickly, in tidy bundles. What a fabulous spinner - I'm jealous!)

I am not feeling so courageous. I am feeling crabby about having to spend my birthday with a bunch of people who can't get along with each other.

I know it is silly to worry about them hurting my feelings. I know it's foolish that I feel hurt that they didn't care that it was my birthday, but rather were more concerned about who else would or wouldn't be coming to the party. It is also dumb to worry that they will be rude, or selfish, or just plain icky company while I'm there. (If I had my choice, I would be having a nice birthday dinner with just my husband and a couple of good friends!) I'm also feeling very anxious about the event, and about seeing my mom for the first time in a couple of years, though I know this is an irrational fear.

Knowing that all that is silly doesn't prevent me from feeling crabby and afraid, though.

I guess if Herman can have the courage to stick himself to a lid, have his skin harden up and his insides turn to jelly, and come out as something with flying apparatus and feet that can taste things, I can have the courage to harden my shell a little bit and take a step into the unknown.

I guess if a little, tiny spider can hang out in our yard, unconcerned with the birds, bats, or other potential predators that could snap it up, and make a life that way (not to mention having to eat other bugs!), I can certainly have the courage to go eat pizza with a dysfunctional family. It's better than eating insects, after all! Blech!!!

Sometimes we can learn a lot about courage from creatures that seem rather insignificant. I'm discovering that nothing in life is insignificant!

Finally, I guess if all these other people seem self-centered and rude, it might be because they lack courage and need someone to show them what it is. I guess that means me...

I hope you will have the courage to face your fears, too! If Herman can do it, so can you!

(By the way, isn't it funny that, as Kary mentioned, the yellow in Herman seemed to match the Goldenrod-dyed wool yellow, which also seems to match the yellow in the spider? Interesting...)

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Stasia is a knitter, spinner, weaver, writer, reader, and musician from Wisconsin, USA.

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