Great Lakes and how T got the name Kupu
So when we last left off, we made it to Pancake Bay on top of Lake Superior and were heading south. The problem is, this particular lake is the largest freshwater lake in the world, which means you can drive for a day and still not be very far around it. If you straighten out the coastline of the lake it would stretch from Duluth, Minnesota to the Bahama Islands. That is a long drive! After leaving Pancake Bay, without having pancakes, we set the GPS for Sault Ste Marie, which was pointless since there was only one road to take. Have you ever put a destination into your GPS that is far away and the instructions are to follow the same road for more than 100kms! That is what it is like for most of the drive across Canada.
There was an important stop along the way. Wawa Ontario is famous for a very large statue of a Canada Goose. It was the perfect addition to our Big Things Small Places book. The goose stands 28 feet tall with a wingspan of 20 feet. It was installed to attract tourists to the town after the highway was diverted to bypass the downtown core. Not so sure how successful the plan was, didn’t see anyone heading that way after snapping some shots of the goose. Plus saying Wawa has a downtown may be a bit of a stretch. So after taking a few photos we performed some jumping jacks, got back in the car skipped “downtown” Wawa, and kept going.
Our destination was Point Pelee, the southernmost point in Canada. Which shares the same latitude as parts of northern California. Who knew Canada had such a southerly position. We wanted to see the great monarch butterfly migration. We had talked about seeing this natural spectacle during a few of our prison visits. Whenever T would see a butterfly she believed it was a sign that freedom would arrive soon. In reality, it took a few butterfly sightings for this theory to play out. Kupu is the Indonesian word for butterfly so when we created ARTrophy we figured her artist name should be Kupu.
Stay tuned for an abstract series inspired by the colours of butterflies in 2022.
Because of this connection to butterflies, it seemed fitting to witness the natural phenomenon of millions of monarchs migrating south. Point Pelee’s location allows monarchs an opportunity to fly the shortest distance across Lake Erie to continue on the 3000km journey to their wintering grounds in Mexico. This is a fascinating natural occurrence where butterflies have some innate ability to fly long distances, congregate in this particular spot, wait for the ideal conditions, and then take to flight crossing the lake.
Before we got to Point Pelee we still had some way to go. Once you get to Sault Ste Marie the good news is you have finally made it past Lake Superior, the bad news is Lake Huron begins! There is a reason they named these the Great Lakes, they are really big!
You can cut some time out of the journey by heading south towards the Manitoulin Islands which run deep into the middle of the lake. Once you get to the tip you either need to swim or more reasonably take the Chi Cheemaun ferry which takes you the 40 km from Northern Ontario to the Bruce Peninsula, the gateway to southern Ontario. From there, you guessed it, keep driving south along another coastline, this one being Lake Huron.
If you have ever driven across Canada you might have had this feeling when you reach this point. Southern Ontario has a unique feel to it, as though you have entered into a different dimension. More than 90% of Canada’s population lives within 150 miles of the US border. It gets busy fast when you enter southern Ontario as the population dramatically increases and traffic builds.
We eventually left Lake Huron’s coastline to cut across southern Ontario arriving at…another lake, Lake Erie. We made it to Point Pelee National Park and booked into an Otentik, which is a cross between a tent and a cabin. We figured since we enjoyed our yurt experience so much we might as well try this hybrid accommodation. We quickly settled into our spot, took the bikes off the rack, and geared up to ride to the southernmost tip of Canada. We were so excited to see the monarchs so rode as fast as we could. When we could ride no further we parked the bikes and hit the boardwalk to make the rest of the journey on foot. As we walked we kept our eyes peeled for any signs of butterflies. We kept walking and walking and made it to the end of the boardwalk. All that was left was a tiny strip of beach named The Tip Exhibit, this was the “Point” of Point Pelee. We walked to the edge of Canada…and then realized there is actually an island further south named Pelee Island. This is the southernmost point, so close!
We turned around to witness the great migration and saw… nothing. We walked back to sit under the very tree where hundreds of thousands of butterflies are said to rest before making the journey across the lake but alas no butterflies were to be seen. After several minutes of curious contemplation, we noticed a park ranger walking our way. We asked, where are the butterflies? The thing about natural phenomena is that timing plays a big role. The ranger went on to tell us that the day before there were approximately two hundred thousand monarchs in the tree above where we were sitting. Today we had spotted exactly zero!
There is a Facebook group that tracks the migration of butterflies. So we joined the group and followed the thread to see we had indeed missed an early migration but there were still millions to come. We only booked one night’s accommodation, which in hindsight may have been too short. It is similar to going on a safari and thinking you will see all the animals in one day. What we did witness that evening was thousands of moth-like insects while we were cooking in the rain. A not-so-natural phenomenon known as bugs in your dinner!
The next morning was a bit stormy which did not make for ideal butterfly spotting. We did head out for another look just in case some butterflies arrived during the night…still nothing. So we packed up and headed towards Toronto.
The next day we woke early to head to a lakeside park (because one never gets tired of being by the water) for some exercise after some long days driving and sitting in the car. As we were on our way, what passed overhead? A fluttering monarch, then another and another. When we reached the park the sky was filling with butterflies. We ran around the park trying to take photos pointing and yelling at each other every time we spotted more. The butterflys were following the northern coastlines of the Great Lakes as they made their way to Point Pelee, incredible!
By the way, it is very difficult to take photos of butterflies in flight, especially with a handphone. We have a lot of photos of the sky with little blurry dots. The trick is to either get a huge telephoto lens, which is super expensive, or creep up on them while they are resting. We spent quite a bit of time in stealth mode trying to get some close-up shots without disturbing them. Pro Tip, butterflies do tend to rest on bushes and dog shit, so think about that the next time you think it would be cute if one landed on your nose.
I was fortunate to see some monarchs this fall in Ludington, MI who had flown across Lake Michigan. They gather on the Garden Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and fly across to the Ludington, Michigan area and continue down the Lake Michigan coast on their journey to Mexico. Ginny and I gather a few monarch caterpillars each year and protect them them from predators as they create their chrysalis. We then wish them luck and release them for their trip south. This February we hope to meet up with a few of our old monarch friends and visit them in the Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the mountains of Central Mexico. This is a trip we have always dreamed of taking are looking forward to it very much. Thanks for sharing your adventures and thoughts as you explore Canada and explore the meaning of freedom. You are both an inspiration. -Thom
Your trip to Central Mexico sounds absolutely fantastic! We will have to add it to our list of must-see international destinations. It is so nice to make this connection with you and Ginny and always a delight to learn that others are as fascinated by this phenomenon as we are. It must be our Green Dragon connection;) Hoping all is well with you both and your family. Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and share your butterfly story!
Go Green Dragons and Monarchs!
I love living vicariously through your adventures on your blog. You’ll have to come visit me one day for the Monarch migration in Pacific Grove!
Thanks so much Lainy – who knows where we will meet again! Butterflies and Pacific Grove sound perfect – probably closer than where you are headed next year:)