Bring out the MAGIC FEATHER

My four-year old grandson is responsible for introducing me to the wonder of a magic feather. After scratching hard wood floors while playing with his extensive toy car collection, he ran to the other room, appeared with a feather from his bedroom, waved it proudly over the affected area and proclaimed, “Look daddy!  No more scratches!”

I was so glad to have been witness, although I did have to stifle laughter. Nice magic trick, if it had worked. I want one of those magic feathers!

I think if I didn’t have a blog I’ve titled “breathe lighter” I might be tempted to turn the “spin cycle” on high and begin throwing all the ways I’m finding life challenging right now. There is a long list. But I also assume in these complex times there isn’t a one of you without your own long list! 

I do, however, look for the positive.

It’s not typical that I find an uplifting story in the Los Angeles Times, but “A future of magical hope along the Central Coast,” by Diana Marcum took a close look at monarch butterflies in coastal California, and did make me smile.

Overdevelopment and loss of native habitat, wildfire conditions, and climate and weather pattern changes may be at least partially responsible for the dramatic decline in numbers of overwintering and migratory monarchs, but the emphasis of the article was on what is being done by citizen scientists as well as the Xerces Society, the science-based organization dedicated to protecting the natural world through the conservation of invertebrates and their habits, to monitor any improvement and look for any signs of hope. 

In 2019 we spent some time in Santa Cruz, leisurely searching and enjoying the butterfly groves. Although extremely pleasant, we didn’t see as many butterflies as we had hoped, adding to the story of the purported massive decline in numbers.

Our weekend in Santa Cruz was only a few months prior to the 2020 shutdown. Being at home and not venturing out brought me into a real love relationship with my own backyard. 

And In 2020 and 2021 I spent spring through fall rescuing monarch caterpillars in my Los Angeles County garden.

Monarch butterflies go through four stages during their life cycle. I rarely see the eggs before I notice the larvae (caterpillar) but being quick to rescue them from the birds I keep jars and terrariums at hand and try to move fast. The only difficult part is being certain to have enough fresh milkweed to feed them. They are dependent on milkweed, preferably a native variety, and I have had some trouble keeping up if the little beauties begin arriving too early in spring.

Even though it’s only February I’m already trying to cultivate enough milkweed because if last year’s pattern is repeated, I will have caterpillars within a month. 

I think if I had a magic feather I’d be wildly waving it in areas of habitat protection for all living creatures. Although there are excellent worldwide conservation efforts joined by millions of “backyard citizen scientists” doing what they can to preserve nature for future generations, we can all cite policies and behaviors that work directly against these efforts.

I recommend this newspaper article for anyone interested in this California local overview, and as I read it, I simply felt hopeful to know that others, like me, really do care. It was nice to feel “positive” for a change.

Then, the following day I really did have to shake my head and maybe laugh a bit ruefully. The Opinion Section of the paper had more than one reader complaining that the article was artificially optimistic. The contributors were irritated at the “hopeful” nature of the article. After all, didn’t we KNOW the numbers had declined by the millions? Why didn’t the article make it perfectly clear that if you didn’t provide native milkweed you weren’t doing it right? And on and on.


I’ll do my part and remain hopeful. And wave my magic feather wherever I go…maybe it will ward off negativity.

And I’d better start preparing my terrariums. They should be arriving any day now.

50 thoughts on “Bring out the MAGIC FEATHER

  1. We need only lots more Beautiful Debras to get this going, this people behaving nicely thing.
    As for those who can see nothing but doom and gloom and refuse to be uplifted .. well, let them wallow down there in the muddy regions, ignoring the sunlit uplands where Monarch butterflies sail majestically through fields of milkweed. Just ignore them; but perhaps question why the newspapers think it right to give them equal airtime ..

    • Thank you, M-R, for your very kind comments. I am sure that I’m mostly pacifying myself and not really changing the fate of the general butterfly decline, but I feel better at least contributing when I can. And I agree with you about the negatives! I thought it was a sign of the times that people were strongly opinionated and very critical about something as innocuous as a primarily anecdotal report on the welfare of a localized butterfly count! It seems that if we aren’t tearing something down we don’t feel relevant! I can’t imagine living like that!

  2. I guess there are some people who are wired for pessimism. Although there is a danger of being too Polyannish, I am always grateful for happy news. In fact, a recent NOVA article I read said that the Western monarch population grew over 100-fold in 2021. How great is that? We could all use a few Magic Feathers.

    • Thank you, Janis. The critical voices were disturbed because the numbers were so very low prior to 2021 that the “massive” increase didn’t represent a great reversal. I think we all know that the monarch is threatened, the bee population and other pollinators are in steep decline and we need focus on preserving habitat, but focusing only on doom doesn’t help the problem. I will be happy for any positive increase in numbers! And I’m working on finding my own magic feather. 🙂

    • I guess by now we all know that negativity and cynicism is pervasive in almost any dialogue, but I don’t have to like it! LOL! I have a lot of milkweed coming up again from last season, but the plants are still really small. I have my fingers crossed I’ll be ready when the caterpillars begin to appear. Milkweed is not my favorite plant and it can sure look weedy, but I think my commitment has me locked into its cultivation!

    • I really do smile every time I think of the magic feather, Andrew. It’s a nicer visual for me than the one I have of my burying my head in the sand! We’ve mostly been at home for the last two years and at this point I think my “naturalist role” is in part to keep myself a part of the natural world, even if I’ve had to somewhat distance myself from the larger human community! And now that I have all these duties I’ve taken on, I may not have time to leave home when the opportunity opens up again!

    • I agree, Ray! I have a bad habit of being drawn into negativity if I listen to it too much, and so I try very hard to be careful what I read or listen to, just to keep me clear of whatever I can avoid. But I think too many people digest cynicism on a daily basis and don’t even know how much it has hurt them. My little magic feather is going to stay close at hand!

  3. Fantastic! I almost missed this post, Debbie. Sorry about the negativity and issues you are facing, but you are certainly doing your part. It must be amazing to see these creatures develop.

  4. Wonderful to read about your conservation efforts Debra. I hope you will have full terrariums this year and many successful ‘fledgings’ to brighten the world around you. 👍

    • Thank you, Martin. It is not much work to prepare for them. Other than the food, they do all the work. LOL! And it really is a special moment when I can release them. It’s become a very spiritual exercise and I can make of it what I need at the time. 🙂

    • Since I heard my grandson with his magic feather story last fall I have been completely tuned into feathers I see on my walks, or on the ground anywhere. They’ve become my favorite symbol. And I think I am learning to tune out the negativity (that is EVERYWHERE) by envisioning myself waving a feather the way he did, and just declaring all is well, despite the evidence! 🙂

  5. I continue to be amazed by your diverse interests and skill development, Debra — milkweed farmer and insect activist! How inspiring to read — what one person can do — and from the comfort of their own backyard. Awaiting the Pandemic Problem Solving book you and your grandson write. I’ll bet he has more “magic” up his sleeves. I know you do!!

    • Oh Gail. Thank you so much. What a kind observation. I think that spending as much time in our yard as we have over the last two years has created an even stronger bond with the natural world. We spend more time with bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and the wild parrots than we do people! And yes, our dear little guy is so fun and very clever. If we pay attention to children they can offer us a different perspective that at times is truly wonderful! 🙂

  6. We do what we can. Staying positive generates more positive. We owe it to ourselves and others. Sometimes, it’s difficult and we have to use all the tricks we know to stay upbeat. It’s worth the effort.

    • You’re right, Jim, it can be work to remain positive, especially when we observe how difficult it is to advocate for species protection, climate health and environmental factors that threaten land and habitat that means so much to us. I do so little, but even minimal participation is good for my soul. And I have such respect for the larger organizations and communities of scientists and supporters who dedicate countless hours to monitoring and reporting on the health of one species of butterfly! I hope the complainers are contributing to the Xerces Society. That would be something!

  7. I so enjoy reading your “magic feather” post. Beautifully expressed, Debra. Caterpillars, and you had ten… amazing. Much effort and patience for that, I admire you. So glad to see the link that your blog friend provided here. 🙂

  8. The ‘magic feather’ made me chuckle, very creative. I am fascinated by the Monarch butterfly. On Saturdays, when my husband is occupied watching football or when I work alone, I turn BBC on and enjoy ‘Wonderstruck” which could not have a better name. All day long they show amazing video clips about the wonders of nature. The Monarch butterflies, all hang on the trees in Mexico and while one of them hardly has any weight, they all can break a tree, because there are so many. We can learn from it. While one small voice might not make a difference, many will demand to be heard and will ultimately make a difference.

    • Bridget, thank you! Exceptional way to think about the example the monarchs in Mexico relay to us as community. We could do so much more with our voices if we could cultivate clear positive messages for change rather than devolve into making complaint our favorite note! I haven’t come across ‘Wonderstruck’ and I’m going to look for it. It sounds like a program I’d very much enjoy!

  9. I’m breathing lighter knowing people like you continue to provide love and hope, along with care of our natural world. Debra, I’m charmed by your grandson’s feather story, and by your careful cultivation of milkweed as you gather the larvae into hopeful terrariums for a chance at life. You write beautifully. I’ve missed your presence here in our blogging world, and send love and strength for all you’re going through. xo

  10. Thank you, Alys. I really do appreciate your comment. I am hoping I can make more of a commitment to sharing at least more often than every three months! I do find that if I spend more time in my garden and outdoors generally I’m able to handle life with more optimism. I don’t always know how that works, but it does. 🙂

  11. You certainly have the right attitude Debra! Negativity can stop any positive action in its tracks and I am guilty of it myself at times. But if we all focussed on what we can do in our own gardens and immediate environment it would affect the whole world. 😃 Good luck with your butterflies. 🦋

    • Thank you, Cathy. It’s true of me as well. I sometimes think I’m a magnate for negativity, meaning that when it’s around me, I do pick it up. But I do try to place my focus and attention on more uplifting thoughts and messaging. Thanks for the well wishes regarding my little butterfly colony! I’m still trying to “beat the clock” on the still milkweed. It’s still pretty meager!

  12. Hope is all around even in the darkest of times. Thanks for sharing your little reminders that we can find it when we look. Praying all is well with you and the family!

    • Cindy, it is just wonderful to see your name here, friend! I thank you. I am really glad to hear from you, and I think it would be great to catch up on family news. Let’s do that soon!

  13. What a wonderful story! I love the magic feather and also your description of your efforts to help the monarch butterflies. They are such beautiful creatures and it must be so uplifting to watch them spread their wings and eventually fly off. I do hope you will share your experiences of the 2022 spring monarchs.
    Do you know the book “Flight Behaviour” by Barbara Kingsolver? I enjoyed her story based around monarch butterflies although I know some people find her a bit “preachy”.
    Sorry to be slow in responding to this post but COVID has intruded recently.

  14. Howdy. My wife and I were visiting relatives in Santa Cruz about 20 years ago. They took us to a wooded area where Monarchs were congregating, resting up I guess before journeying elsewhere. It was an amazing sight. Maybe this was a grove you write about in this essay. Take care. Neil S.

  15. Dear Debra, what you’re doing sounds to me like following that Chinese saying, “The journey of a 1,000 miles begins with the first step.” You are taking that step and also taking us along on the journey OR encouraging us to take our first step in a journey that is important to us.

    Sometimes, people (me, too) become so fanatic about the state of this or that that they lose their sense of humor as well as their sense of wonder. I’m glad you just ignored the opinions/letters and began to prepare your caterpillar home! Peace.

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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