By Russell Kahn
Special to Montclair Local
By 4 p.m. last Saturday, 40 monarch butterflies began their remarkable 3,000-mile journey from Montclair to Mexico.
Trina Paulus moved to Montclair in 1979, seven years after publishing “Hope for the Flowers.” Over the next four decades, millions of people read her classic tale of rebirth, revolution and butterflies. And Paulus continued to spread her message by raising and releasing thousands of Monarch butterflies from her Elm Street home.
“One year alone, I raised over 1,000 butterflies,” said Paulus. “My ceiling was covered with chrysalises!” However, the iconic monarch has suffered a 90 percent decline in population in just two decades. The past few seasons Paulus found just 15 to 20 monarch butterfly eggs on her property’s milkweed leaves. This year, somewhat surprisingly, she discovered more than 300. She celebrated with a butterfly release at Crane Park on Sept. 15.
Paulus has done this before. Rose Cali helped her host a butterfly release at the Montclair Library for Booktoberfest. There were events by the Montclair High School during the 1990s. And the author of this article met Paulus at a 2011 butterfly release outside Pat Kenschaft’s organic garden on Gordonhurst Avenue. Yet, the world-famous author/activist called Saturday’s event her biggest to date.
Approximately 200 people showed up for the end-of-summer Crane Park release. Neighbors of all ages enjoyed time with dozens of butterflies inside an enclosed screen tent. The orange-and-black fliers landed on the heads, hands and noses of the happy human visitors. Children learned about the life cycle of the monarch — and how to protect their habitat.
Maddie, 10, had four butterflies on her at one time. “One was on my nose for a really long time,” she said. “Like 10 or 20 minutes!”
“It really tickled when there was one on my head,” added 10-year-old Bridget Stanton.
Some kids (and adults) dressed with wings and danced around the small park.
“It felt really magical,” said Julianna, age 10. Yet the Montclair fifth-grader said playing with butterflies wasn’t her favorite part of the day. Instead, she said it was “being able to get milkweed seeds and a caterpillar” at the event. Julianna said she was excited to build a “monarch habitat” in her yard.
Milkweed is the only food that monarch butterflies will eat. Yet, people are cutting it down across the country, giving the species fewer places to lay their eggs. Julianna had advice for anyone else to help. “Try planting a bit of milkweed on your own.”
“I was overwhelmed at the turnout,” said Paulus, now age 87. She said it was a thrill “to educate, to share the joy and the beauty of the whole experience.” However, Paulus said she was most impressed with the way the Montclair community came together to show support.
Sarah Blaine volunteered her stand-up tent for the butterflies. Jose German-Gomez added the flower arrangement and provided a demonstration of wild milkweed growing in Crane Park. Alan Smith of the Porchistas performed his original song written for the famous book, aptly titled, “Hope for the Flowers.” Many more spread the word across social media.
The butterflies are now on their way to Mexico. “It’s a tough trip,” said Paulus. They should reach the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán, Mexico, by Halloween — the Day of the Dead.
There will be a final release of Paulus’s remaining monarchs on Saturday, Sept. 22. Paulus will hold a lesson on tagging the butterflies by the 73 See Gallery at 73 Pine St. at 2, 3, and 4 p.m..