By Kate Zankowicz
I can still see the photos in the National Georgraphic of my mind. The startling realization that those dead leaves coating the trees are in fact thousands of living butterflies. They rustle in faded oranges, against the 1970s blue of the sky, preparing for their 3000 km migration to Mexico. I clip the photo out, breathless, file it away into my “things I must see before I die” folder. Then I begin to associate Point Pelee with very drinkable wine and briefly forget that each year a tiny insect goes on a monumental journey equivalent to going around the earth eleven times, and all for the nourishment of the poisonous milkweed plant.
Knowing that the milkweed is the only food source for monarch larvae, and the only place where they will suspend their cocoons has made me a socially inacceptable person. I have scolded ignorant teenagers with lawnmowers who regularly massacre milkweed, and endanger the lives of monarchs unknowingly. I have chastized young children with butterfly nets who are out with their parents enjoying a “nature moment”. I have broken open pods and seeded abandoned urban lots. No I do not have a butterfly tattoo on my ankle, but I do have an unflagging desire to see the magnificent monarch roostings on the tip of Point Pelee.
If you’re planning to make it down to Point Pelee there are a few accomodation options. For the more epicurean traveller there is the Vintage Goose Inn, a lovely guest house that offers facials, and omelettes and a wrap-around porch. I stayed in a charmless motel in Kingsville and treated myself to the Strawberry Rhubarb Goose Liver Pate Brulee at their restaurant on Main Street. This way I wasn’t tempted to sleep in—the monarchs are most viewable in the early hours of the morning.
The best time to see the monarchs preparing for migration is in late August to early September. That certainly does not mean that you will see them. There is a monarch hotline that you can call that will report monarch sightings and I highly recommend giving them a ring before you go, to dispel any false hopes (519) 322.2371
Thanks to the torrid temperatures this summer, I was able to spot exactly four monarchs, flitting away, all at different times and in different places. Global warming has robbed me of the desired life-changing experience yet again.
Luckily one of my other obssesions was being celebrated just around the corner from the National Park. By pure fluke, Leamington was in full swing with its annual Tomato Fair at Seacliffe Park. After a few hours of watching the Leamington Idol competition, I forgot about global warming completely. And after stomping on a few tomatoes (not heirloom varieties) I was able to face my failed monarch expedition. Being monarchless was something I was beginning to accept, when all of a sudden, I was gripped by the need to eat something other than Beefsteak and Roma. I wanted a Green Zebra. Possibly even more difficult to find then a horde of migrating monarchs, the Green Zebra is a tangy tomato with lovely green stripes, that was created in 1986, and is perfect in sandwiches. It is food guru Alice Waters’ favourite tomato, and, like the monarch, it apparently didn’t enjoy our hot summer either. I was in the tomato capital of North America, and the Green Zebra was nowhere to be found.
Instead I comforted myself with some Earl of Edgecomb tomatoes, purple, swollen-looking and delicious. Then I settled down to witness a few waterbarrel fights, a geriatric swing dance extravaganza, and a Miss Tomato pageant. It was just as impressive as watching the flutter of thousands of butterfly wings.