September 18, 2013

Seniors planting seeds of hope

By ROBIN CAUDELL Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — A plot planted with milkweed for future monarch butterflies enables Thelma Douglas and Bertha Pavone to make a difference at the Samuel F. Vilas Home.

Scott Farquhartson, a Vilas employee, dug and constructed the plot and planted seeds. The seeds came from the Saranac Lake-based ADK Action as part of its Monarch-butterfly project.

“When I read in the Press-Republican there was an organization called ADK Action that was petitioning the highway officials to not mow between certain dates in order to protect a growth of milkweed, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, there is somebody who is really doing something,’” said Douglas, a retired educator.

“And if I was 20 years younger, that’s exactly what I would be out doing — what they’re doing. So when things progressed around here, and we were hearing more and more from people out in the fields ... that they were seeing no monarchs and that there was very little milkweed, I went back to my old days when I did that pillow (accented with a monarch).”

Forty years ago, Douglas raised a monarch at her Tremblay Avenue home in the city.

“The blessed event happened when I was having a yard sale where everybody in the neighborhood that was out at the yard sale saw the butterfly come out of the chrysalis,” she said. “So that’s all you need to get excited about monarchs. I’ve always been interested in monarchs. And then my sister in Oklahoma one year, I think raised something like 15 different butterflies from the larva stage because she got inspired by a lady who wrote a book called ‘How to Raise a Monarch Butterfly: The Caterpillar Caregiver Handbook.’ This lady (author Mary C. Thorne) is from Wisconsin, and she is a friend of my sister’s because they spend winters in Texas. I ordered some of the books. And Bert (Pavone) and a half-dozen people in Thelma’s Corner have read them and got each other all excited talking about them.”

Farquhartson’s interest started in boyhood.

“He helped his mother raise monarch butterflies, so he got all excited about planting the seed. He has planted quite a lot of seed for us. He is part of the team,” Douglas said.

The milkweed patch is located on the fringe of Vilas’ lawn.

“He put a frame of wood out there and put the soil in it and dug down enough so, hopefully, the milkweed will grow,” Pavone said. “If it comes out, it will be nice. It has sun there and enough moisture that I think they will grow well. We’re anxious to see if they’ll come up. We will keep walking over there and checking them to make sure.”

Pavone gardens regularly on the grounds.

“I like the flowers,” Pavone said. “I like to prepare flowers and get gardens going, and we’ll have to get flowers that the butterflies like.”

“The nectar is important for the mature monarch to feed on before it flies to Mexico,” Douglas said. “I wrote to the organization in Saranac Lake and sent them a membership and asked if we could be their distribution point in Plattsburgh for brochures. Well it happened at an opportune time for that letter to arrive because they call her the “Fairy Godmother of the Monarchs,” this lady in Saranac Lake (who) was having a few health issues. It was just the pick-me-up she needed. She was excited.”

Douglas received 100 brochures.

“They sent me 50 brochures that we offered to fill with seed because we will have a lot of people who are gathering seed for us. We figured we could help them by gathering seed, too, because the seed costs $150 a pound. So we feel we can be in the business of gathering seed for them and filling some of the pouches,” she said.

Douglas passes them out wherever she goes and has received responses from Moriah to Champlain with her newspaper appeal.

“I had someone come yesterday and got two packages,” she said. “And I’m trying to encourage schools. There are a number of teachers who have done Monarch projects with kindergarten. One of our best stories is Bert’s great-grandson from Denver. When he saw this book (on monarchs), he said, ‘Oh, I know about monarch butterflies.’ He’s 4 years old. He proceeded to tell me that first there was an egg. Then there was a caterpillar. Then a couple of weeks later, there was a chrysalis. And then, there was a butterfly. He told me the whole procedure, and I couldn’t believe that. Here’s a 4-year-old telling me this whole procedure.”

His name is Finn Johnson, and he lives in Denver, Colo.

“He says he learned all this in school,” Pavone said. “He goes to a private school, and I guess it’s very nice because the child is very bright.”

Pavone inventoried their flowers and found a lack of fall blooms.

“We have some calendula and sunflowers,” she said.

“You need fall-blossoming flowers like cone flower and so forth,” Douglas said. “So next spring when we do shopping for flowers for Bert to plant, we will be sure to plant a lot of fall flowers.”

“It will flower nice and bright and get them to come,” Pavone said.

“Everybody who comes, they want to tell their story of how they got so interested in this,” Douglas said. “One man from Mooers was so upset that his neighbors had plowed up all of what they called weeds and planted grass ... One of the beautiful things in the fall is the New England aster, the purple-wild aster. It’s the easiest thing to grow. It grows wild. So we’re definitely going to get New England aster growing around here instead of so much grass. We have plenty of grass.”

They recommend people to go see “Flight of the Butterflies,” which screens at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake.

“The movie is only 45 minutes, but it is astounding,” Douglas said. “It is one of the miracle mysteries of nature ... I don’t know how many years it took before they found where the butterflies migrated to in Mexico. And it turned out to be up at a high elevation in central Mexico. So northern New York Adirondack monarchs travel 2,500 miles to where they winter in Mexico. So this is a special breed.”

After a screening last month, Douglas and Pavone tagged monarchs with Taylor.

“Now the reason why they are so successful in knowing where the butterflies are coming from, he’s paying these native Mexicans $5 a tag if they bring in a tag of an injured or dead butterfly that they find on the forest floor,” Douglas said. “Everybody in the villages around there are all excited about monarch butterflies and protecting them as their thing. So there’s quite a move in Mexico to try and protect the habitat, too.”

The monarchs’ habitat faces destruction here for various reasons, but also in Mexico.

“Some illegal forests (were being cut) down and that has caused quite a bit of difference so there’s noticeably a terrible drop in population,” Douglas said.

ADK Action states “that every Monarch is important” on its brochure.

“So anything you can do to improve the habitat should help another year,” Douglas said. “This year is a very sad year.”

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TO LEARN MORE For more information on the Monarch butterfly project, call Thelm Douglas at 563-4960, Ext. 314; or Bertha Pavone at Ext. 105. Visit to learn about ADK Action.