Nature Photography: Coexistence (No. 38) – Butterflies and the Monarch

22 July 2019


Monarch Collage, Sally W. Donatello 2019 All Rights Reserved

Click onto image to enlarge. Let me know your response to this collage. Prints are available upon request. 


Butterflies are silent sorcerers; incredibly visible and invisible. Their presence singles healthy and vibrant landscapes where they feed and pollinate, pollinate and feed. Some are endangered and others near that threshold. Over the last decade I‘ve noticed a decline in the general butterfly population as well as the ever-popular monarch, a singular species that represents the demise of nature’s abundance.

While monarchs and many other species are in crisis, the disruption in their populations has been widely publicized. Campaigns to revive their numbers are working. And subsequently the monarch has become a symbol of climate change, deforestation, human intervention and extinction.

Each butterfly has a design signature that appeals to the human eye, but more importantly the loss of their presence in the natural world (our world) amplifies the future of the planet’s survival as we know it. As the bee and other species strive to survive, the forecast is clear: humanity will be in deep, deep, deep trouble without these creatures. Think food chain. Think agriculture.

Inner sparks fly through my mind as I relive moments of ecstasy as a butterfly settles with grace upon a swamp milkweed or eloquent native hibiscus. A blank page can easily be a canvas for images and words to describe the inner glow achieved as I spy on these tiny reflectors of light. While their future is unknown, history, science and data become predictors.

I cannot perceive of a world without the acrobatics of the butterfly, the whimsy of its flight, the patterns of its wings, the palette of its coloration, the sheer grace as it becomes airborne. To trace my own sightings of these magical ethereal creatures is to count the years that I have been an advocate for the wild and wildlife.

Emotions are heightened and arrested as I contemplate Mother Nature’s fate—a fate inextricably tied to ours. And a tiny epiphany came this week as I witnessed numerous butterflies that I have not observed for years. I’ve witnessed more monarchs this season than in the previous decade. Maybe, just maybe, small acts by you and me can make a difference, at least locally.

Part of my narrative is archived and dated by sightings of those that flit around my gardens, over forty years of care, cultivation and maintenance of the land have brought aviators that call my small corner of the universe theirs. Still, changes are real and significant. I cannot control the greater assault on nature. But I continue to work incredibly hard to provide them what they need to survive. And to encourage others to do the same.

Time will keep its cadence, but the complete return of near-extinct species is questionable. Time is not on their side.

The monarch’s story seems to be a bridge from the lush of the past to the ever-growing “dystopia” of today and what is yet to be: a transformation that marks the greed, selfishness and even desperation by the powers that control policy. Their ignorance is staggering.

I search and search to cradle meaning in these dark, dark times, And it’s emotionally-wrenching to try and separate the assault on human rights from the assault on the natural world. These blend together for me, knowing that one is affecting the other.

This very human story has been waging since the dawn of interaction between Homo sapiens and nature. We certainly lost our way along our journey.

It’s time to make our world whole and illuminate the path toward the greater good. And instill optimism against the odds that we can and will restore balance on this spinning planet that is our home, refuge and sanctuary: a sanctuary for each human animal and every other creature.


In the Lens section is a collage that represents two versions of a scene with a monarch. The conversion to black-and-white was done with the intention to create an atmosphere that focuses on their plight. The images are two versions of the monarch’s possible outcome from the precipice of its loss and continual threat from the human animal. The first image shows clouds of uncertainty; the second image is moving into the light once more as a result of the campaign to revive this critical symbol of Mother Nature and our relationship to her.


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40 Responses to Nature Photography: Coexistence (No. 38) – Butterflies and the Monarch

  1. Amy says:

    Beautiful in B&W, Sally! I notice more decreasing of butterflies here. I am sure weather has a lot to do with it. It is worrisome.

  2. Tina Schell says:

    Well said as always Sally. We are very involved in monarch conservation on Kiawah as we are on their migration path. Their falloff was painful to see but they are definitely back on the right track, improving in numbers last year and this. Also our sea turtle preservation efforts are having great success as this year we’ve had an all-time record number of loggerhead nests across the state. Perhaps it is not to lo late to impact change, assuming the melting ice doesn’t make it a moot point 😢. You images compliment your message perfectly

    • Tina, I do enjoy learning about what you are doing on “your” island. And it must be glorious to be on the migration path. To keep our own sanity, we must continue to do what we can. Oh, how exciting that the efforts to increase the population of sea turtles is being successful. It makes my heart sing.

  3. Tina Schell says:

    Hi sally, I left a long comment on this one and see in your site it’s awaiting moderation. I suspect it went to spam. Have had many issues on
    The w WP. Could you check and let me know please? Thanks and happy cooler weather summer!

  4. inese says:

    Beautiful message. It is a butterfly time here in Ireland, but we don’t have Monarchs.

  5. thirdeyemom says:

    Lovely as always Sally. I’m waiting for my butterflies to come to my garden. They usually do when their favorite flowering shrub blooms. It shouldn’t be too much longer!

  6. Su Leslie says:

    An important message eloquently expressed in both words and image.

  7. restlessjo says:

    I’m going with the second image, Sally. 🙂 🙂 There’s always hope, and change is a constant.

  8. I like the symbolism in your photos as you so eloquently describe it, Sally. I was filled with joy several times today as I saw a monarch on a clover at the park this morning as well as monarchs and other butterflies cavorting both at the park and outside our house today.


  9. Lignum Draco says:

    Beautiful work. The ethereal nature of the first part of the collage is very appealing. And you are very correct in everything you write here. Every little step we take in the right direction has potential.

  10. Beautiful images Sally, you definitely have a way with words.

  11. I like both of your images this week, Sally. They both convey your feelings behind them and the greater story surrounding us all. We have seen more butterflies this year in our neighborhood than we have in a long time. A lot of neighbors have been planting friendly vegetation for them and it looks like it may be paying off.

    • Allan, that effort to provide for them seems to be a way forward. But we also must stop the pesticides and deforestation and stripping of the land. You’ve brought a smile into my day to learn that you also have had more sightings. Have a lovely week. Thanks.

  12. smilecalm says:

    smiling to these winged
    compassionate ideals, Sally!
    i remember seeing many flying
    & landing near me long ago 🙂

  13. Leya says:

    You write it well. This is our trauma and our destiny – we have to come to grips with what we can, and maybe accept what we cannot do so much about. I agree with what you say, and I too, continue to do my best for the flora and fauna in my little spot of the world.

    • Leya, the power of this blogging life is meeting individuals such as yourself. By focusing on nature we can show Mother Nature as the quintessential master of the universe that she is. And to show our interconnectiveness. I appreciate your thoughtful response.

  14. pattimoed says:

    A beautiful and eloquent post, Sally. Lovely.

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