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Cindy Lange-Kubick: The Monarch Midwife and a butterfly named Barack
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Cindy Lange-Kubick: The Monarch Midwife and a butterfly named Barack

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Cindy Lange-Kubick has loved writing columns about life in her hometown since 1994. She had hoped to become a people person by now, nonetheless she would love to hear your tales of fascinating neighbors and interesting places.

Jane Addams emerged July 11, shortly after Nebraska Sen. Adam Morfeld.

Then came a pair of male butterflies — Fly strong, Barack! Best of luck, Courage, may your name embrace you …

On and on it went this summer — baby butterfly by baby butterfly — at the lake cabin in Minnesota where Mary Lou Meier and her wife, Vicki Miller, had gone for an extended vacation.

The couple from Lincoln head to their cabin every year, and for the past three summers, they’ve welcomed guests.

An orange blizzard in a wild place worth saving

They come as caterpillars — or sometimes tiny eggs that will become caterpillars — and they leave as butterflies.

“In the wild, they have about a one-in-a-100 chance of survival, and this is kind of a way to help them on their way,” explained Meier, who learned of the monarchs’ plight from her butterfly-saving sister Rose.

The monarchs face myriad dangers — chief among them, loss of their milkweed habitat to mowing and pesticide.

To help them along the life cycle, Meier set up four enclosed stations in the cabin to keep them safe. (Her daughter, Jenn Bassen, calls them “nurseries,” and friends have christened Meier the “Monarch Midwife.”)

She and Miller and neighbors who have become intrigued by the endeavor collect milkweed leaves and rescue caterpillars, who start life no bigger than a grain of rice and munch their way to 200 times their birth weight in a few weeks.

Meier and Miller watch it all with wonder.

“She has such a passion for nature and nurturing,” Miller says. “Whether it’s plants or children or butterflies.”

When it comes to butterflies: “What Mary Lou does improves their chance of survival exponentially.”

And this year, this crazy, cooped-up year, Meier decided to give human names to the dozens of monarchs who emerged from their chrysalis homes and took flight from the backyard flower garden.

“There’s so much negative happening in the world these days,” she says. “We need to put something positive out there.”

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So the retired social worker was thoughtful in her naming, choosing people who’d made a difference.

Politicians and environmentalists, teachers and warriors for justice.

John Lewis.

Jane Goodall and Greta Thunberg. (Both born on the 22nd of July.)

“Welcome to Rachel Carson,” she wrote on her Facebook page July 14. “Named for the author of ‘Silent Spring,’ her book that advanced the global environmental movement.”

“Meet Barbara Jordan … the first African American elected to the Texas Senate ...”

“Meet today’s monarch, a male honoring Dr. Thomas Dooley, a physician who went to Laos to provide humanitarian care doctoring to refugees in the late 1950s ...”

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She introduced the Abbott sisters — Edith and Grace — girls from Grand Island who grew up to establish social work as a profession.

“As they flew off they wanted to remind all of us to be thoughtful and kind to others ...”

She named a butterfly after her mom. And one for a Minneapolis teacher. Another for a nature-loving neighbor at the lake. One for Ernie Chambers.

Each butterfly is featured in a photo, posing on a petunia or a pot of geraniums or on the tiptop of a purple salvia.

The posts are history lessons and primers on the anatomy of a monarch — four wings each (except Courage, who emerged with just three) how to tell a male from a female (two black spots on the under-wings of the males.)

The butterflies they tended this year will live just a few weeks, Meier said. Then they will give birth to the Methuselah generation, monarchs that live six months and will make their way south — through Nebraska — and all the way to Mexico.

In the spring, new generations will make the trek north and Meier and Miller will be back at their cabin to greet them.

“Pollinators are important,” Meier said. “They are a piece of the ecosystem that needs to be protected.”

This year, Meier tended to more than 60 of the black-and-white-and-yellow-striped caterpillars.

Miller helped. “She always says, ‘It’s not my project; it’s not my project,’ and then she goes out and gathers milkweed for me,” Meier said.

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Miller takes photos. Built small monarch bunks, complete with water droppers. Gathered escaped caterpillars and anxious butterflies the day Meier accidentally left a cage open and seven butterflies hatched.

They didn’t all get names, but one did: Vicki Miller.

“She is a helpmate who always has my back,” Meier wrote on Facebook. "She’s very generous and caring, smart and makes me laugh. And she’s a great butterfly wrangler!"

For nearly a month this summer, the couple watched the caterpillars grow, disappear into their jade-green homes dotted with gold. Watched as their wings darkened those cramped chrysalis wombs and pushed their way out, bellies swollen.

“Their abdomens are really big, and the wings are all crumpled up,” Meier explained. “Then the abdomen pumps fluid into the wings.”

They hang in their nurseries for a few hours until they start to flap their wings.

And then it’s time.

The new monarchs perch on Meier’s finger as she carries them out into the yard and sets them on a flower.

She wishes them well. Farewell, Aldo Leopold! Thank you, Dr. Fauci! Fly strong, Kamala!

She hopes more people plant milkweed and help give the hurting monarchs a hand.

Already, friends and neighbors have taken up the cause, the way she did following her sister’s example.

At least one of them has gone a step further.

Earlier this month, when the Monarch Midwife had a birthday, a friend posted a photo on her Facebook page — a butterfly flying off into the world.

“We named her Mary Lou Meier,” she wrote. “Happy birthday and thanks for helping us raise monarchs.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7218 or clangekubick@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @TheRealCLK

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Columnist

Cindy Lange-Kubick has loved writing columns about life in her hometown since 1994. She had hoped to become a people person by now, nonetheless she would love to hear your tales of fascinating neighbors and interesting places.

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