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So what's the last beautiful thing that you experienced? Here's mine:

I've been learning about monarch butterflies this year, actually took a class on them. They are fascinating and beautiful beings, and my next ambition is to start up a classroom-based monarch program, where kids get to watch monarchs go from egg through 6 caterpillar instars, to chrysalis, watch the butterfly break out, and set it free. The Monarch Teacher Network is a great resource for putting together a program, all I need to do is queue up a grant and partner with a school. Doable. But I am a lazy soul.

Almost too lazy to bother to describe all the things that make Monarch Butterflies so awesome. The 2nd longest insect migration in the world (they were recently preempted by a dragonfly in the Indian Ocean). All monarchs east of the Rockies overwinter in one small area close to Mexico City, which means that in September, the great-grandchildren of the butterflies that flew north in the spring, fly more than a thousand miles, back to a place they've never known., for the curious.

So my last most beautiful moment was this weekend, when I took a group of kids canoeing on the Potomac. We were down below DC, where the river's broad and flat, tidal. This was a new experience for these kids, students from a charter school in DC, so we had some serious discussions about whether there were sharks or crocodiles, how disgusting the mud and waterweeds were, how deep the river was, and how dangerous it would be if we tipped over.

It was a perfect fall day, warm with that intensity of life that comes with the end of summer. We watched an osprey float and dive, trying for fish, watched herons stalk the shore and fly off grawking when we got too close. We watched the bright silver flash of small fish in the weeds, and rode the ripples and waves of the river.

But the most beautiful thing was the monarch butterflies, all heading west across the mile-wide river, coasting and gliding like fall leaves, glowing bright like cathedral windows, backlit by a bright blue sky, sunset orange, almost painful to watch. There were hundreds of them, although we'd see but a few at a time. And they all followed the same path, like a meridian. I imagined an infinitude of monarchs, all streaming west and south, coasting on thermals and a month of nectar, confident in the abundance of nature they'd found, flying towards a place they'd never known, that they knew like an inevitability, like rivers find the sea.

I want to believe that there will be monarchs flying long after humanity has resolved its conflict with nature, and I think there's good odds of that. Watching such abundance, such resilience, is reassuring. For all that there are networks of humans putting significant effort into environmental education and habitat protection, I'm mostly banking on the resilience and adaptability of nature, and humanity's inherent self-destructiveness, to "resolve" the current threat we pose. I don't tell the kids that.

But when I get a chance to share a moment of abundance like this with kids, hundreds of monarchs streaming like flame across the sky, I'm grateful.

So you, what was your last most beautiful moment?

Originally posted to erratic on Thu Sep 23, 2010 at 05:20 PM PDT.

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