By Sara Paul
In these modern times, where technology often trumps nature, and digital reality sometimes replaces actual reality, two local ladies have chosen to tackle some very large issues, starting with some very small helpers.
Warwick residents Abbey Ashley and Laure Ragans, the “Conservation Monarch,” are on a noble, fluttery crusade to educate individuals on the importance of nature, the outdoors, and the environment – aspects of life, even country life – that are slowly being outweighed by cell phones, tablets, and digital screens of all sizes.
The group’s catalyst, though small, is relevant and timeless – the beloved and beautiful Monarch butterfly.
“It’s meaningful and a wonderful metaphor how butterflies make it to their destination against all odds. It speaks to every person,” said Abbey, a Warwick native and founder of “Conservation Monarch,” who warns that the Monarch is dangerously close to the extinct species list.
Laure adds, “There is a lesson here that you can learn through these butterflies. These creatures are so therapeutic. They exemplify transformation, healing, resilience, and hope. They are also symbols of strength and determination even though, like us, they are so preciously delicate.”
Together, the dynamic and far from delicate duo are setting their sights on education and awareness of this most important winged member of the Nymphalidae family.
“There are things people are doing now and things people can be doing in the future that will help these beautiful creatures survive,” Abbey said.
A Transformative Partnership
When Abbey’s uncle, John Sanford, was about to mow his fields, Abbey and her young daughter, Maddie, noticed a great deal of milkweed plants covered in caterpillars. The mom and daughter rescue team scooped up the fuzzy bugs and began raising them.
“We quickly learned a lot about these caterpillars, including the fact that their numbers had dropped and many other people around the country were also concerned,” Abbey said, emphasizing that her daughter was truly the inspiration for “Conservation Monarch.”
Not far away, Laure was experiencing her own Monarch exploration off of Old Ridge Road. Surrounded by three large farms, Laure noticed the milkweed. With her two girls, now 10 and 12, she began raising the caterpillars as well. In 2018, the two joined forces and took “Conservation Monarch” to the next level
Balancing Technology With Nature
With technology as a useful tool in such tasks as tracking butterfly migration, Abbey and Laure are disturbed by the distraction and disconnect that occurs when people are incessantly eyeing their electronics.
“How are these kids going to be environmentally proactive if they are not caring about the environment now?,” asks Abbey rhetorically, observing people of all ages constantly staring at their smart phones.
“If you don’t look up, you are going to miss out!,” she warns.
Laure is equally concerned, adding that, “Having two girls of my own that are exposed daily to screens in schools, it is my belief that unless our generation teaches our children about the ways of nature, there is a good chance they may not even notice it was tangibly there in the first place. A balance between both is necessary. Monarch or nature education is my part in giving back to the planet that sustains us.”
The tech savvy ladies reference a quote that speaks to their thoughts about electronics in today’s society: “Technology is a useful servant, but a dangerous master” (Christian Lange).
A Magical Migration
Laure explained the intricate, possibly magical migration the Monarch Butterfly endures.
As the colorful creatures head to Mexico, they can travel between 50 to 100 miles per day, spending up to two months on their journey. Some butterflies can be tracked with stickers placed on the bottoms of their wings. They travel down the eastern corridor, hitting Cape May, NJ as they funnel down south to an unknown destination believed to be somewhere in Mexico, according to Laure.
“The interesting part is that the butterflies arrive in Mexico in droves right around the time of the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration in the beginning of November,” Laure said.
Monarch butterflies play a role in Día de los Muertos because they are believed to hold the spirits of the departed. This belief stems from the fact that the first monarchs arrive in Mexico for the winter each fall on Nov. 1, which coincides with Día de los Muertos, Abbey and Laure explained.
“Some believe that since the butterflies arrive during this time that they carry the souls of the people’s ancestors on their wings. It’s really an incredible thing,” Laure said.
An Optimistic Approach
Though there are some grim realities when it comes to a young generation perhaps mired in technology and apathy, Abbey and Laure are optimistic that their efforts to educate and inform will not be in vain.
“There is such an incredible feeling when you look into a child’s eyes while witnessing the chrysalis transformation,” notes Laure, who is also inspired by parent reactions, who contact her after the presentations. The women have presented at Sanfordville Elementary and Tuxedo Elementary schools.
Abbey attended the Climate March in NYC in September, where she was impressed by the huge number of attendees, as well as the day’s powerful global message.
The conscientious ladies are now looking for ways to urge farmers and neighbors to slightly alter their mowing and spraying practices, two factors that can make or break successful monarch life cycles.
“We are realistic and are certainly not telling people not to mow or use pesticides, however there are best practices that can be followed to ensure the Monarch Butterflies will not be in danger of extinction,” commented Abbey, noting that if mowing occurs a bit earlier and then later in the season than normal, and even simply leaves small strips of milkweed, the caterpillars will have a better shot at thriving.
Laure explained that about 400 eggs can exist on just one milkweed plant and since there is a low survival rate and milkweed is the only things caterpillars eat, its important that the milkweed remain in critical time frames. Also, while feeding on nectar, Monarchs pollinate many types of wildflowers.
Abbey added that historically people have worked in sync with nature and not the other way around.
In the past, people were so connected to nature, to the outdoors, that they were one. The bottom line for these pro-active outdoors-women is that this is the time to act. They optimistically quote the words of their favorite poet, Mary Oliver: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”