Monday, January 29, 2007


Determination...The Little Engine That Could...Sisyphus...etc...
All throughout life, there are indelible images which serve to move us ahead.
My favorite actually occurred.
One day, back in the '70's, I happened to be walking on the beach at Plum Island, Newburyport, Mass.
It was a wild weather day. Strong off-shore winds were holding back giant waves churned up by a storm at sea.
Plum Island is a very steep beach.
When the tide is high...very high because of the storm, it creates a riptide as the perfectly formed rollers, held from breaking until the last instant by the off-shore blow, drop onto the slope, and sweep back, underwater, in a reverse curve.
As these waves break, they force a large amount of air rapidly out the front of the wave tube.
This blows back toward the beach, beneath the force of the off-shore winds.
Here's the scene.
There's very little beach left from the high tide.
30-40 mph winds are blowing very powerful waves backwards, holding them.
Until finally, with a crashing whooosh, the waves create near hurricane force winds, blowing inland, right along the surface of the sand, beneath the force of the off-shore effect.
Not a very attractive scene for one planning to set off from said shore, eh?
Well, it didn't stop what appeared to be millions of Monarch Butterflies, on their way to the Azores, from doing just that.
I was strolling along, staring ahead, down the beach, exhilerated by the incredible surf action, when, in the distance, my eyes caught sight of an orange carpet, covering much of the sand.
Upon approaching, I could see that the 'carpet' was butterflies, attempting to fly out over the churning waves, setting out for points East.
It wasn't going very well.
The most fortunate ones were high, and dry, holed up in little pockets they'd created in the sand by flapping the livin' b'jaysus out of their wings. Just like Flounder make little depressions in the sea bottom, these determined little guys had created foxholes for themselves.
Every square inch of dry sand in sight was dimpled with Monarchs.
Unfortunately, there were at least five times more gathered, than could fit on the dry areas.
If they stayed low, the onrushing wave whoosh tossed them mercilessly back, into the marsh grass, tearing most of them to shreds, leaving a gruesome, orange-gossamer ribbon along the grassline.
The ones who got caught in the updraft, and found their way into the off-shore flow of air, were thrown into the oncoming surf, smashed onto the beach, and swept away by the riptide.
Their instinctual drive to go was so strong that, after watching the scene for a while, I realized the ones in the holes waited, rested a few seconds, and whoosh, up, or down, depending on where the wave action was at the moment.
These fools were going, come hell or high water.
It was an horrifically destructive natural moment in time. There was absolutely nothing I could do.
But, because it had that car wreck quality, I couldn't stop watching.
Well, wouldn't ya just know it?
I looked Eastward, into the sky.
Of the seeming millions, a few were up there, having caught the off-shore just right, and were flapping madly, in every direction.
All their butterfly senses must have been wacked from the trauma.
More flew downward, back into the crashing surf, than flew upward, into the breeze, and Eastward.
But, by gum, some of 'em were heading in the right direction.
I can't even guess how long I stood there, transfixed...helplessly rooting them on...
But, I do know it made one serious impression.
I'm absolutely certain there has never been a worse day in my life than those Monarchs were having.
It didn't deter them at all.
Forge ahead...
here's a link to a graphic depicting the events...