Posted by: Ross Gardner | June 20, 2011

The Wanderer

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

The Monarch (Danaus plexippus) is an amazing butterfly, not least for its extraordinary beauty and elegance, but for other reasons besides.  It is essentially an American species, where it is well known for their annual migration and astonishing roosting spectacles.  Their journey takes them three and a half thousand miles  from Canada to as far south as Mexico and then back again.  They gather en masse at overwintering sites in the south, but alas for me, this something I have yet to witnesses, let alone photograph and it is to good old wikipedia that I shall direct you to see for yourself.

To be the only butterfly to make this bird-like return migration is remarkable enough in its own right, but this is only the half of it.  Not for nothing has this butterfly also been dubbed ‘The Wanderer’.  Incredibly, they regularly accomplish trans-Atlantic flights, appearing annually, even if sometimes only in ones and twos, on British shores.  This amazing propensity for long distance flight has allowed them to even found new colonies east of the Atlantic in Southern Spain and the Canary Island.  The lack of a native larval foodplant prevents the same happening in the UK.  It was in Tenerife that I enjoyed my sole encounter with this wonderful butterfly.  Not a great picture, but a nice memento nevertheless.

Monarch Book, by Lola Swain (copyright 2011 Lola Swain)

The picture was taken a good few years ago, so why, you may well ask, is it the subject of this blog.  Well, my very good lady, Lola, is also a very fine potter.  The inspiration for her latest work is no less than the beautiful Monarch.  Having recently finished an exhibition for the Leigh Art Trail, we both thought, why don’t I put something bit unexpected up on the blog.  It is also this that has allowed us to collaborate, her as an artist and me as a writer.  The first piece of her Monarch Series, was a book for an Artists’ Book Exhibition.  Ceramic tiles, decorated with the Monarch design, have between them the words of one of my poems printed on concertinas of paper.  To read it you would have to kind of zig-zag through the ‘pages’ in such a way as might mimic the flight of a butterfly.  It is a lovely piece of art to a have played a small part in producing.  Here’s the poem:

MONARCH (by Ross Gardner)

New world wanderer, with the ancients

Etched around each golden tear.

Descendant of Zeus or Argive princess?

No ill thought promise or tower of bronze

Can pinion these lustful wings.

Nor mere continents or mountain divide,

Or oceans unimagined.

Just to fly. So quick from the egg,

The tiger barely mustering a roar –

Ascending into the deity of flight.

Of wings that define being:

An amber goddess or ermined hero,

Their science gliding in their wake.

Floating like leaves in restless air.

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