Tall Ships and a Summer of a Million and One Monarchs
I have always understood butterflies to be an omen of good fortune. Whenever I see these flying friends, I take them to be communications from the universe and messengers of fate. If I have the auspicious pleasure of seeing a butterfly, I’m promptly grounded and forced to interpret what the universe is trying to tell me. This summer, as I stood on the decks of immaculate schooners and towering brigs, on the shores of bustling cities and tiny towns, I was frequently greeted by the ethereal flapping of black and orange monarch butterflies. When the familiar whispers of self-doubt plagued me as I desperately tried to adapt to the complicated world of tall ships, a monarch would appear, and my doubts would diminish. The butterflies became a reminder to stay positive, to embrace the overwhelming experience of being a crew member with excitement rather than fear, and to be confident in myself. If the universe was sending me messages, I needed to pay attention and accept that I was on the tall ships for a reason.
When I was unbelievably frustrated with people and wanted more than anything to be alone, the monarchs shook me from my bad temperament. When the Great Lakes glittered from the midday sun and the only sounds for miles was the reverberation of the bow cutting through water and the occasional call of a loon, the monarchs were a reward for my endurance and a signal that I was exactly where I was meant to be.
When the pulsating rays of summer burnt the skin on my exposed shoulders on a twelve-hour workday traversing the Welland Canal my first week sailing on Niagara, the monarchs fluttered amongst the exhausted crew. Their black and orange innocence was a stark dichotomy with the grunts of frustrated sailors as all hands hauled dock lines to keep the ship from scratching against the side of an eighty-foot concrete wall.
Before my transit with Pride of Baltimore my second week, Susannah, my fellow intern (now lifelong friend), stood on the dock to wish me a safe journey. As we said a rushed goodbye to each other, butterfly fluttered next to Susannah’s right ear, then gently landed on me. My eyes instantly fixated on the intricate details of the monarch’s wings and the way it contrasted with my pale blue shirt. Why had this little friend chosen me? Perhaps it had more to do with a monarch’s love affair with shades of blue I was wearing, but I choose to believe in signs. It was a path of crumbs laid out for me to follow. In that moment I understood. Susannah and I smiled at each other, a connection emerging, an invisible rope that bound us to each other.
My third week in Bay City, Michigan, I realized how slow life moves when one is not racing around the decks of a tall ship. I spent time in silent parks, processing why I was letting fear prevent me from experiencing the exhilaration of sailing. In these intense moments of self-reflection, monarchs found me and offered their quiet supervision. When I saw the warm toned sunsets on Denis Sullivan, followed shortly by the emergence of a thousand stars, the orange and black prompted me to remain steadfast- there was a reason that I was on the tall ships and it was my job to figure out what I was supposed to learn from this experience.
When I stood on the wooden pin rail at the bow of Niagara on my redemptive journey watching Captain Cusson wearing a purple top hat, the monarchs hovered, most likely captivated by the hilarious spectacle of the captain. When I was thrown into the role of passenger on Picton Castle, my social anxiety was augmented tenfold and I struggled to feel accepted in a space in which I was not fully crew nor passenger. Yet at a morning muster where James, Susannah, and I stood in a watch we unofficially called “intern watch”, a monarch flew over the three of us. I grabbed Susannah’s hand and gave her a small smile knowing that we were in this together. James, Susannah and I have all looked out for one another this summer. I knew that Susannah and James would have my back if I needed them and my fears dissipated as I realized yet again that everything was much worse in my head than actual reality.
When I see these butterflies now, I will think of Susannah who has inherited my love of the little orange and black creatures. We made a pact to write letters and tell one another when a monarch makes an appearance in our lives. That is how we will know that we’re on the right path, following our passions that encourage us to smile every day. Perhaps the monarch’s presence is all circumstantial- their presence less indicative of fate and more dependent on migration patterns on the Great Lakes. Perhaps the tall ships were just unintentionally following the routes of the monarchs, but I choose to see the world in a more purposeful way in which everything happens for a reason. Living my life this way certainly makes me a slightly overreactive and dramatic, but at least I can say I will never be bored. To me, these butterflies signal a joy of challenging myself, personal growth, adaptation, and courage. With the knowledge I have gained from this experience, I can happily report that the monarchs have taught me this: everything is as it’s meant to be.