Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Beat Apart

The Monarch Butterfly's migration path from Canada to New York 

As adults, it is easy to laugh at the way children reproduce knowledge. Facts may become fictionalised with whatever else is going on in the child’s head at the time. We are in the process of relocating to a different country at the moment, for example, which is rather present in all our minds. But how many of us adults take something as fact, only to realise that our proof is rather vague? Through the drip down effect from my son’s primary school education I realise how little I know about the natural world, for example, but also how much I enjoy believing in the world that he has created in his imagination. The above drawing prompted this conversation:

Eric (8): Monarch butterflies fly all the way from Canada to New York.

Me: Why New York?

E: Because New York is their nature reserve so they have to go there.  

Me: Why don’t they just stay in Canada?”

E: Yeah, because their area is not there, it is in New York. And if they mated before hand then they could never manage the distance, because they die after they have mated. It takes about 2 hours. Understand? ”

Me: Yeah. I see now.

E: And when they get near to New York then they wait at an area where there is land to the left and sea to the right and lots of islands.
Then they wait on a tree until a really strong wind comes along that doesn’t allow them to land so they can cross the water.
But it is so difficult to land in New York.

Me: Why is it hard to land there if it is their area?

E: Yeah, because there is no landscape there of course. In the city there aren’t many trees or parks. But there are some men who are working on that, to preserve it.”

Me: So, do they get back to Canada then?

E: They grow up in Canada. They die in New York.

Me: So, they don’t go back to Canada, then?

E: What do you mean?!  Would you like to just live in the one place and never visit your real home?

This conversation with my son got me thinking about a new chapter, which needs to be written on the Monarch butterfly and its migratory habits:

Why is it that animals instinctively know where their habitat is and humans don’t? Let’s take the Monarch butterfly. Every year it makes it way down to its nature reserve in New York. In the summer, after a brief stopover on Ellis Island, the Monarchs take over Greenwich Village. Originally a rural hamlet, the Monarchs seem to be attracted to the Village because of its organic street plan, quite unlike the orderly grid layout of the rest of the city, which was developed later in the 19th century. 

Having few permanent ties, living essentially frugal but colourful lives and practicing what some in society might view as unorthodox sexual practices also lends weight to the theory that the Monarch was drawn to the once thriving Bohemian centre of Greenwich Village. Some scientists believe that due to a lack of cultural stimulation in their native Canada, a natural urge overcomes the Monarch to be “creative” and go to where “the action is”. Propagating an alternative culture, the Monarch formed artist colonies, took part in theatre projects as well as influencing generations of artists.  It is said that the paint splatter technique developed by the Monarch, a natural expressive extension of their anatomy, was later appropriated by the artist Jackson Pollock, who is supposed to have come under their influence whilst staying at that cultural icon, The Albert Hotel. 

The Monarch also found allegiance with Greenwich Village Beat writers William S. Burroughs, Alan Ginsbourg and Jack Karuouac, with their shared belief that drug taking could enhance the creative process. The Monarchs imported their own choice of drug, Milkweed, into the US. On the streets the drug became known as “Milky Juice”.  Indeed, even to this day the Monarch seeks legalisation of this drug, professing its medicinal properties. The authorities, however, argue that Milkweed is highly toxic. Ingesting more that ten percent of body weight causes certain death and only the Monarch seems to be able to judge this ratio.  Perhaps the most famous victim of the “Milky Juice” is the poet and writer, Dylan Thomas. Finally succumbing to the drug in 1953 in the White Horse Tavern in the Village, he had given tribute to the drug in his play “Under Milk Weed” which had only just premiered that year in New York.  His editor, rather controversially, changed the title of the play posthumously to “Under Milk Wood”, to dissociate Dylan Thomas from the drug that had consumed him.

Sadly, because of today’s absurdly high housing costs and the inevitable gentrification that goes along with it, some experts are worried that the Monarch’s natural habitat may be in the process of erosion. It is a testament to the seriousness of the situation that the Monarch has agreed to take part in a tagging scheme to track their movements, despite their usual political wariness of any forms of state enforced control. The aim of this scheme is to see in what numbers the Monarch may have left the boundaries of the Village to find cheaper rents and establish their artist practices there. Efforts have been made to preserve the integrity of the Village by holding on to the values of the Monarch such as tolerance and a liberal live and let live attitude, as well as protecting the architectural heritage that serves as the Monarch natural habitat to ensure that it doesn’t lose its most attractive visitor.

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