A couple of months ago we went to see Nicola Benedetti play a concert of chamber music at Warwick Arts. There was Ravel and Brahms (wonderful, both) a duet by Mark Anthony Turnage written for Benedetti and her partner Leonard Elschenbroich and a new piece by Arlene Sierra called Butterflies Remember a Mountain.
It was inspired by a natural phenomenon – the epic migration of Monarch butterflies and the way that at a point in the journey they swerve to one side and back again as if to miss an invisible obstacle.
The amazing part of the journey is the sudden eastward turn that monarchs take over Lake Superior. Monarchs fly over the lake, necessarily, in one unceasing flight. That alone would be difficult, but the monarchs make it tougher by not going directly south. They fly south, and at one point of the lake turn east, fly for a while, and then turn back toward the south. Why?
Biologists, and certain geologists, believe that something was blocking the monarchs’ path. They believe that that part of Lake Superior might have once been one of the highest mountains ever to loom over North America. It would have been useless for the monarchs to try to scale it, and wasteful to start climbing it, so all successfully migrating monarchs veered east around it and then headed southward again. They’ve kept doing that, some say, even after the mountain is long gone.
The piece was beautiful. Here it is now: