Autumn is approaching. The days are shortening. The soybeans are yellowing and the goldenrods are in bloom. Blackbirds are starting to gather in trees at dusk and cedar waxwing flocks are stripping the berries off of bushes.
One of my favorite sensations in fall is having a group of Canada geese fly over honking as they gather more geese to their formation. Last year, as I walked along the farm field to catch the Glacial Drumlin trail, they flew over so low, I heard the sound of their feathers and felt the down draft of their powerful wing beats. For as long as I can remember, whenever I heard their cry or saw their arrow piercing the sky, I wanted to take flight and join them.
What would it be like to take flight in the chaotic and somehow controlled swirl of a swarm? To be so individually unencumbered and yet to still move as one, in a breathtaking piece of artwork against some wide expanse? In birds, it’s called a murmuration. In fish, it’s called schooling. Even the Common Green Gardner dragonfly, a species found on Rock Lake, migrates in swarms down to Mexico and into the West Indies.
Yesterday, I was out in the middle of Rock Lake. It was cool and there was a brisk northeasterly wind. I saw a monarch flying into the wind, crossing the lake. Why would such a fragile thing insist on flying into a headwind, over water, where there is no place to rest? The flight pattern, flopping up and down, looks so exhausting I can’t believe that they actually migrate to central Mexico. Any monarchs hatched here in Lake Mills around mid-August will take part in that migration. The change in the milkweed nectar and the shortening daylight transforms this generation so that their adult lifespans increase to nine months—giving them a chance to make the 3,000 mile distance. Their parents, on the other hand, lived as adults for only two to six weeks.
As temperatures cool and the air takes on a crisp quality and more and more things leave, there is a part of me that quickens and lifts to the adventure of leaving too. Another part of me sinks down into place. I’m always the one who stays. Like the swallowtail chrysalis, the spring peepers and turtle hatchlings who brave it out in their nests, I settle in and spend my winter here — in Lake Mills.