It’s Butterfly O’Clock

Maureen Seaberg
3 min readJun 1, 2020
Butterfly O’Clock by Maureen Seaberg.

By Maureen Seaberg

In late September 2018, a lone monarch butterfly sailed past the picture window beside the desk at my home office.

I felt an overwhelming wave of sadness as it drifted down the corridor between my house and my next-door neighbor’s in New York City — alongside lilacs no longer in bloom and out to the street in front.

Like a grain of sand irritating an oyster, it bothered me that it was the only monarch I had seen that month. Ordinarily, September is a peak time for the orange and black beauties in the Northeast. And since nature often reveals herself to me that way — in solo vignettes that represent a wider whole — I started to ask, “Where are all the butterflies?”

In my research I came across a tiny newsletter out of Wisconsin sending up a flare about their own missing monarchs and urging people to plant more milkweed — the gorgeous insects’ preferred habitat for breeding. Over-development in the Midwest has disappeared too many of the plants, and now, their wondrous inhabitants, from this most important region for the monarchs. Everyone knows Mexico is the terminus of the winged marvels’ migration. But it all starts here in North America each year.

I felt a pearl begin to foment in my mind. This story was urgent and it was my duty to tell it.

When I’m on to something as a journalist, the universe always conspires with me like the Irish blessing where the road rises to meet you. It wasn’t long before a friend I had told of my concern met a senior woman on a construction job he was working. Her daughter happens to be a naturalist quietly working to save the butterflies of the Midwest. An invitation to go and report the story from the epicenter of the problem with this expert butterfly midwife landed at my feet.

Armed with this invitation and the evidence of the newsletter, I began to pitch some of our nation’s finest publications, only to have editor after editor turn the missing butterflies story down. I should shame them here, but I won’t. Well maybe just one, the Atlantic, in the following picture of the exchange. They never replied after this auto-generated confirmation of receipt of the pitch.

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Maureen Seaberg

Coauthor of Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel (HMH). Published in the New York Times, National Geographic, Psychology Today.