Talking to llamas

By Rod Hunter - For The Yadkin Ripple

A Monarch butterfly.

Photo courtesy of Rod Hunter

A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.

Photo courtesy of Rod Hunter

Like many of those bike riding trespassers from Forsyth County, I love biking in Yadkin County. Low traffic density and the beauty of country lanes curving and dipping through pastoral setting is gratifying, and a great way to get that exercise we seniors so badly need.

I ride slowly, but then I’ve always moved slowly. When I was a teenager, my father threatened to cut off my food supply if I didn’t mow our yard. We only had a push mower. So I mowed our enormous one-plus-acre yard one tiny row at a time. I mowed slowly because that yard was so big that I knew by the time I finished that gigantic yard, the place I had begun, would already need mowing again. So to my teenage eyes, it was a boring chore that could never really be completed. I reasoned that there is no point hurrying on a project that could never be finished. So I mowed slowly.

One evening after mowing a little of our enormous yard, I went in for dinner, my dad had been watching me mow and we had the following conversation. He said, “I watched you mowing and you were moving very slowly.” I replied, “It’s a big yard and I was conserving my strength to be able to mow the entire thing, it’s bigger than a baseball diamond!” He was not impressed and said, “You were moving so slow I had to line you up with a tree to make sure you were really moving!” I still move slowly when walking, mowing or riding my bike.

I often bike by a goat farm near my home; I bleat at the goats, they answer back. I enjoy this inter-species communication. I do the same thing by whinnying at horses that I ride by. Occasionally they respond, and that’s a lot of fun. (Please remember I am an aging old fool.)

A few years ago I rode by a llama farm. I reasoned that llamas look a lot like a cross between a horse and a goat, so their sound should be a cross between a whinny and a bleat. Well, I made a sound that I believed was half “whinny” and half “bleat.” I was totally surprised to learn that I could speak llama, but apparently the llama word I had shouted at them was an alarm sound, and they all, very excitedly, ran away. At great speed they ran toward the fence on the other side of the pasture. To my horror they did not stop at the fence. They hit that fence at full speed and bounced off like ping-pong balls off a concrete floor. Rather than stay and examine the carnage, I rode away at full speed (about 8 mph). Later I returned in my car to see that the llamas were OK. I let out a big sigh of relief, a human sigh, no animal noises this time.

Two summers ago I biked by a hay field near my house. The hay field was covered with wildflowers known as “butterfly weed.” Their pretty orange blooms attract insects by the hundreds, many of them butterflies, hence its name. Later I returned with my camera to photograph the butterflies. One of the butterflies I found was the monarch, which many folks consider to be the most beautiful butterfly. Some of those photographs are included here. Monarchs are having a rough go of it these days, briefly here is why.

Monarchs over-winter in Mexico. By contrast, the other butterflies like the swallowtails, the sulphers, buckeyes, and other butterflies we see in Yadkin County over-winter here. Either as eggs, chrysalis or adults they are able to sort of hibernate. But in spring the monarchs, after over-wintering in Mexico, leave and fly north toward the middle of our country where much of our agriculture grows. They stop and a new generation is born and that generation heads north toward Canada. During summer in Canada another generation is born and they fly back south toward the east coast, and these are the monarchs we see. After hanging around the southeast for a while, yet another generation is born and heads back to Mexico where its great-grandparents started this wondrous journey. These butterflies will over-winter in Mexico and start the same cycle over again. This is such an amazing phenomenon, and scientists are not totally sure how successive generations know where to fly. No Monarch has ever traveled the many hundreds of miles of its portion of this long trip; they do it only once in their lifetime. They are able to fly as high as 11,000 feet, catch an air flow and go as far as 250 miles in a single day seeking and finding a place they have never been.

The problem is this; agriculture is using more and more herbicides to kill off all plant life except money crops. Additionally, urban growth is consuming a lot of the monarch’s natural habitat. Monarchs only breed and lay eggs on milkweed, a wild non-income producing plant. Due to the efficiency of agriculture practices, and urban growth much of the milkweed is disappearing, and so are the monarchs. Some scientists believe we’ve experienced nearly a 90-percent reduction in the species since the mid-90s. Unless we humans decide these beautiful creatures are worth protecting, our grandchildren may not see Monarchs in the wild, only in photographs. Seeing them flit from one bloom to another, with all their color, and knowing how extraordinary these far traveling tiny creatures are, amazes most people. It is sad to think, Monarchs may be coming to their end.

Rod Hunter lives in East Bend and is an avid hiker, biker, photographer and nature lover. He is the past state chairman of the Sierra Club of NC. He volunteers as a court appointed children’s advocate for children in foster care and with Cancer Services Inc. He is a two-time cancer survivor. He has backpacked in Alaska, Arizona, California, Utah, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia, Virginia, and of course North Carolina.

A Monarch butterfly. Monarch butterfly. Photo courtesy of Rod Hunter

A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. Photo courtesy of Rod Hunter

By Rod Hunter

For The Yadkin Ripple

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