Over the past 18 months, I have had the incredible opportunity of having Monarch butterfly experts Chip Taylor and Lincoln Brower as guests in my home here in the Adirondacks. We had hours to converse with each and ask questions to our heart’s content. We found both brilliant, charismatic experts in their field. Each came to lecture at The Wild Center, the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, under the sponsorship of a small non-profit I helped found, AdkAction.org.
Of course, I am no scientist and no expert on this subject. But I find myself having to make a choice of whether to side with Lincoln or Chip on Lincoln’s recent quest to have Monarchs added to the threatened species list, which offers all its potential protections.
Lincoln says it’s time we extended this vital protection, which might be one way to get some influence on the spread of destructive GMO agribusiness. Chip argues on strict scientific ground that Monarchs are not an endangered species. He says there are on-going populations in California, Florida and on some Caribbean islands. As a layperson who tries to keep informed, I know the California population is in steady decline. I believe as well that the Florida and Caribbean islands populations are highly vulnerable to climate change.
Here is a theoretical: Say there were a thriving, non-threatened population of Monarchs on — oh– Easter Island. You might stand on scientific principle and say, no, they are not a threatened species because they thrive on Easter Island.
What comfort is this to a little boy in Michigan who will know Monarchs only by their iconic photos? What joy is there in that to a 70-year-old woman in the Adirondacks who grew up loving Monarchs from her childhood in Appalachia and has planted an entire garden around their needs?
I beg your indulgence here while I digress to share with you an email sent by my good friend Rick Mincher, a poet and academic to the core, in response to my most recent article about Monarchs.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this article and for caring for the monarchs.
Somewhere along the past year I read up on these colorful travelers and I noticed this line in the Wikipedia description of the monarch butterfly. The monarch was originally described by Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae of 1758 and it was placed in the genus Papilio. Upon reading this single line it may not seem all that unique or interesting to most folks.
Years ago I was trying to find the origin to the practice of drawing a line in the sand to force others into making decisions. The earliest account I could find was the story of Gaius Popillius Laenas. I found the comparison eerie when seeing that the monarch was originally described by Linnaeus who placed it in the genus Papilio. Here is this simple story.
Stay with me here. Don’t neglect to read the story of Gaius Popillius Laenas from Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome. It’s short with a big pay-off.
The story of Gaius Popillius Laenas
“Once upon a time there was a very bad and nasty King of Syria named Antiochus. […] Even though Syria was a rich kingdom, King Antiochus IV lusted after the neighbouring kingdom of Egypt […] so King Antiochus IV invaded Egypt, captured Pelusium, marched down the Delta to Memphis, captured that, and began to march up the other side of the Delta toward Alexandria.
“Having ruined the country and the army, the brothers Ptolemy and their sister-wife, Cleopatra II, had no choice but to appeal to Rome for help against King Antiochus IV, Rome being the best and greatest of all nations, and everyone’s hero. To the rescue of Egypt, the Senate and People of Rome (being in better accord in those days than we would believe possible now – or so the storybooks say) sent their noble brave consular Gaius Popillius Laenas. Now any other country would have given its hero a whole army, but the Senate and People of Rome gave Gaius Popillius Laenas only twelve lictors and two clerks. However, because it was a foreign mission, the lictors were allowed to wear the red tunics and put the axes in their bundles of rods, so Gaius Popillius Laenas was not quite unprotected. Off they sailed in a little ship, and came to Alexandria just as King Antiochus IV was marching up the Canopic arm of the Nilus toward the great city wherein cowered the Egyptians.
“Clad in his purple-bordered toga and preceded by his twelve crimson-clad lictors, all bearing the axes in their bundles of rods, Gaius Popillus Laenas walked east. Now he was not a young man, so as he went he leaned upon a tall staff, his pace as placid as his face. Since only the brave and heroic and noble Romans built decent roads, he was soon walking along through thick dust. But was Gaius Popillus Laenas deterred? No! He just kept on walking, until near the huge hippodrome in which the Alexandrians liked to watch the horse races, he ran into a wall of Syrian soldiers, and had to stop.
“King Antiochus IV of Syria came forward, and went to meet Gaius Popillius Laenas.
“‘Rome has no business in Egypt!’ the King said, frowning awfully and direfully.
“‘Syria has no business in Egypt either,’ said Gaius Popillius Laenas, smiling sweetly and serenely.
“‘Go back to Rome,’ said the King.
“‘Go back to Syria,’ said Gaius Popillius Laenas.
“But neither of them moved a single inch.
“‘You are offending the Senate and People of Rome,’ said Gaius Popillius Laenas after a while of staring into the King’s fierce face. ‘I have been ordered to make you return to Syria.’
“The King laughed and laughed and laughed. ‘And how are you going to make me go home?’ he asked. ‘Where is your army?’
“‘I have no need of an army, King Antiochus IV,’ said Gaius Popillius Laenas. ‘Everything that Rome is, has been, and will be, is standing before you here and now. I am Rome, no less than Rome’s largest army. And in the name of Rome, I say to you a further time, go home!’
“‘No,’ said King Antiochus IV.
“So Gaius Popillius Laenas stepped forward, and moving sedately, he used the end of his staff to trace a circle in the dust all the way around the person of King Antiochus IV, who found himself standing inside Gaius Popillius Laenas’s circle.
“‘Before you step out of this circle, King Antiochus IV, I advise you to think again,’ said Gaius Popillius Laenas. ‘And when you do step out of it – why, be facing east, and go home to Syria.’
“The King said nothing. The King did not stir. Gaius Popillius Laenas said nothing. Gaius Popillius Laenas did not stir. Since Gaius Popillius Laenas was a Roman and did not need to hide his face, his sweet and serene countenance was on full display. But King Antiochus IV hid his face behind a curled and wired wigbeard, and even then could not conceal its thunder. Time went on. And then, still inside the circle, the mighty King of Syria turned on his heel to face east, and stepped out of the circle in an easterly direction, and marched back to Syria with all his soldiers.”
Rick concluded his story with this short note:
I love the way that this Roman peacemaker, one man, used his wit and wisdom to halt an evil Syria from terrorizing Egypt. The power of one, and somehow in a quirky sense the story of the monarch is connected to finding peace in the middle east, even if it was two thousand years ago.
Lincoln Brower and his colleagues want to draw that line in the sand for Monarchs. I love and respect Chip Taylor, but my heart and mind tell me to stand with Lincoln on this on his side of this line.
All will, of course, have to make up your own minds. I urge you to give serious, deep consideration, as I have, then go to this link and sign the petition to place Monarchs on the threatened species list before it’s too late.