Monday, December 9, 2013

The Butterfly Effect

When you read a Barbara Kingsolver novel you have to be prepared for a certain amount of preaching. Sometimes I think it gets in the way of a good story, but in Flight Behavior her commentary on the effects of global warming on the migratory pattern of monarch butterflies is nested within the powerful story of a farm family.

Dellarobia Turnbow is on her determined way up a forest trail to an ill-advised tryst when she encounters a sight so extraordinary that she assumes it is a sign from God. Only later does she learn that she has stumbled upon a huge colony of monarch butterflies. Usually they winter on a remote mountain in Mexico, but severe floods seem to have altered their path to the woods of the Turnbow farm in rural Tennessee.

The monarchs divide the family and the small town of Feathertown, and when entomologist Ovid Byron and his grad students arrive to study the phenomenon, Dellarobia gets a glimpse of a wider world. No, they don't fall in love РKingsolver is much too nuanced a writer for that clich̩. And she manages to poke gentle fun at earnest treehuggers and ivory tower academics as much as at the Appalachian hillbillies.

But the heart of the story is Dellarobia herself, a hardworking, conflicted wife and mother, whose exposure to the plight of the butterflies leads her to unexpected choices.

If this book piques your interest in monarch butterflies and you live in northern California, I strongly recommend a visit to Natural Bridges State Beach near Santa Cruz. It has a Monarch Butterly Preserve where from mid-October to mid-February you can see these beautiful creatures in their eucalyptus grove habitat.