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home : education : schools November 21, 2017

9/19/2017 12:52:00 PM
Celebrating Journey's Flight
Author Jean Russell Nave. photo by Sue Anderson
+ click to enlarge
Author Jean Russell Nave. photo by Sue Anderson

By Jim Anderson

Who would think an insect that weighs less than a paperclip could bring so many people together for such a heart-warming time? One family drove all the way from near Yakima, Washington, to attend a butterfly party in the Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center last week.

Jeri Buckmann, membership and visitor center manager, went out of her way on her so-called "day off" to open the Chamber office, rearrange everything to accommodate the expected crowd coming to celebrate the insect who unknowingly inspired a book - and achieved quite an honor and set a very important record for one of its kind.

Yes, it was the fantastic journey of Journey, the monarch butterfly, that they were honoring. Little did anyone in Sisters Middle School know what would happen when Journey took to the skies last fall.

Susie Werts, teacher at Sisters Middle School, had several monarch caterpillars in the newly created monarch waystation she and her students created at the school. Two of the caterpillars made it though metamorphosis into adults, and when Werts and her son, Kellen, discovered them hanging in their cage drying their wings, they were elated.

Werts had been in communication with Professor David James of Washington State University who had provided her with numbered tags designed to be placed on the underside of the butterfly's hind wing so it could be identified if observed when it took off on its migratory flight to Southern California.

On September 17, 2016, Werts and Kellen attached tags to the two adult butterflies and released them. One went high into the air and immediately turned in a southerly direction and was gone in the twinkling of an eye, like it knew where it was going (which inspired Kellen to name it Journey. The other (named Hope) wandered off and was never heard from again.

The voyage of that one butterfly was record-setting because the day it arrived in the Carpinteria, California, monarch preserve, an observer looking for tagged butterflies saw it fly in. It was also seen en route on four separate occasions by other observers. The tag is designed to be read by someone looking at the butterfly with binoculars the same way people watch and identify birds.

Last Saturday afternoon, more than 50 people gathered in the Chamber headquarters to celebrate that historic voyage, and the book the middle school students attending helped to write about Journey's flight. Local author Jean Russell Nave - who also brought delicious cake - spearheaded the book project and interviewed many of Werts' students for their ideas on what the butterfly might have encountered on its way south. Illustrations were provided by both middle and high school students.

The project took most of the 2016 school year to complete. Additional contributors included Dr. David G. James, associate professor, Department of Entomology, Washington State University; Joe Billings, a self-funded monarch enthusiast who discovered Journey in Carpinteria; Loree McCawley, a retired administrator and wildlife advocate from California who was a contributing editor for the book; Tom Landis, retired forester who has pioneered the creation of pollinator habitats in Oregon; and myself and Sue Anderson, local naturalists.

Many others added their talents to the book's creation including art teachers Judy Fuentes and Bethany Gunnarson, children's literacy advocate Jill Gentry, leading outdoor publisher Rob Russell, and Conan Tigard, webmaster and photographer.

Local sponsors also helped out including Harry and Lola Books; Catherine Black of Ponderosa Properties; Friends of the Sisters Library; artist Dan Rickards; Ray's Food Place; Western Title and Escrow; and The Roundhouse Foundation. Many of these supporters attended the celebration, some driving great distances.

As a crowning event to the party, Werts tagged one last female monarch, supplied by Southern Oregon Monarch Advocates, and with all watching, released it into the warm sunshine outside the Chamber building. Cheers followed its flight, and Bend TV station KTVZ recorded the lift-off.

That's not the end of the story. Werts and her students will continue this exciting and fulfilling conservation education program. In Werts' words, "We have expanded our understanding and spawned a realization born of Journey's flight that together, collaboratively, we can make a difference. In keeping with Journey's triumphant legacy, we are elevated - and we are soaring in our commitment to preserve and protect other species for the greater good of our precious planet."

The book is available at Paulina Springs Books for $16.95, which will keep Journey alive for many, many years to come. It is also available on Amazon. The project website is: All profits from the sales go to Sisters Middle School's butterfly project.

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