June 26 • 02:30 PM

Fun, freedom on wings of nature

October 03, 2018
She's sitting on some hay bales that are arranged in rows in a semi-circle when I spot her and her friends. We spot each other at the same time, exchanging frantic waves through the maze of the crowd.

When she stands up to greet me with a big bear hug, the smile on her face is truly joyful and radiant. It's my dad's smile...and I shouldn't be surprised because the person holding her capable and compassionate arms out to me is his sister. My lifelong mentor and spiritual guide. My biggest supporter and source of true wisdom. My aunt, Zizi Teresa.

Along with my friend Deb and Zizi's gaggle of interesting, fun and funny friends, we're at George's Livonia Gardens, about to embark on another adventure—a Monarch butterfly release.

My aunt learned of the event months ago, and when she spread the word to those she'd thought would like to take part, everyone got on board. How often do you get to learn about and then release a tagged Monarch, sending it on its way with blessings for a safe journey and gratitude for sharing its innate, miraculous beauty and instinct?

Just 300 tickets were available for the event, and I feel special to have snagged one for me and my friend courtesy of Ziz.

George's Livonia Gardens—one of the longest standing establishments of its sort in Livonia—is alive with the kind of controlled chaos that happens when families, puppies, friends and strangers converge in one space for the same reason.

Before being handed an envelope with the most glorious suprise ever tucked inside of it, we learn about the plight of the Monarch from an enthusiastic speaker who's dedicated to the cause.

She tells us that it's a misnomer that the Monarch is in jeopardy. This year was a very, very good year for the bright orange and black winged creatures, she says. It's the illegal logging in Mexico that's endangering the butterflies' longevity—their habitat being haphazardly and illegally destroyed.

She tells us it's a little bit cool to send this particular flock of butterflies on their way—it's an overcast Sunday where the temps are struggling to reach 60 degrees, so we're shifting to Plan B.

We'll still release them, but the strategy will differ from a sunny, warm day release.

The facilitator tells us about the tagging process, and explains how we can track our butterfly on its flight. She demonstrates how tagging is done with a live butterfly. I am in awe...and very grateful to learn that the Monarchs we'll release are already tagged. I would not want to even try on so delicate a creature.

We can feed the butterflies, too, inside a butterfly tent. We're told how all of this will happen in groups of ten.

We line up—all 14 of us in Zizi's group—and prep for the release. The wait time flies as we chat about Gervasi Vinyard in Canton, Ohio—the most unlikely place you'd ever dream of for a Tuscan-like vinyard experience. But that's what you get there, according to Ziz and my cousin Anna. After a recent four day visit there, neither one of them wanted to leave.

Though there's more than ten in our group, the Monarch release organizers let us enjoy the experience together. We're each handed an envelope with instructions to grasp it lightly on the edges. I'm floored when I learn there's a Monarch inside! The group leader takes us to an area where there are lots of blooming chrysanthemums and asters. She explains the butterflies will hang out there, where they can feed on nectar until the sun comes out and they're ready to go.

I peer inside the little white envelope and see the most vibrant, colorful and dare I say beautiful butterfly I've ever seen. The gorgeous creature seems reluctant to leave it's temporary womb...but after a few shakes, it makes its way out and joins another atop a bright yellow mum plant. I believe I am taking a glimpse into heaven.

Later, I get a bite of heaven as well as we share stories and laughs over dinner at Bravo. This is my family, my tribe, my home and—as Mary Oliver would observe—my "one wild and precious life." I feel as free and as miraculous as a butterfly.

Email Catherine at

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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