September 26, 2023


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The flight of Mona the Monarch

Tomorrow is the first day of spring. The vernal equinox. Are you ready?

I desperately tried to watch Bill Farris from Prairie Wind Nursery talk about the Monarch. He was the March speaker for the Oklahoma State University Shackleford Series. When I attempted to join the meeting minutes before 1 p.m., I was informed my Zoom was out of date. The latest and greatest Zoom program must be installed. Amazingly, it actually installed without a hitch. I watched on my laptop screen as folks readied for the Zoom session. Soon, Bill was off and talking. His presentation: “Monarchs: Global Issues Local Solutions.”

At 1:22 p.m., my internet connection disappeared. The wicked wire globe replaced the dot with concentric ripples in the bottom right corner. No amount of plugging and unplugging the cords to the black WiFi Router cube worked, nor did turning off and on the laptop. The mouse died. I tracked down the mouse’s recharger power line and plugged it into the outlet. The mouse began to suck energy while I dug around the drawer in search of the mouse with a wire. That was finally located deeply buried in cords and other computer paraphernalia, and plugged into the laptop. My phone was then connected to the laptop by patch cord to work as a hotspot. The substitute mouse performed admirably, but nothing else did. The signal was too weak. In desperation I accessed Yahoo on the phone and tracked down my Shackleford registration info. The blue square with ‘Join Session Now’ in white letters appeared. Found it. Happy Days. The little sign refused to allow entry. No session opened. I carried the phone outside, hoping for a miracle. Nope. My internet remained off for the rest of the afternoon. Bill Farris had to carry on without me. Found out later (from our internet provider) AT&T cut a fiber optic cable that disabled households and businesses all the way to Texas.

Speaking of monarchs and things going awry, the barn quilt (featuring a monarch butterfly) was attempting a coup d’etat. Attached to the wall of the garden shed at the Pottawatomie County Extension Center, the butterfly barn quilt has begun to peel around the edges.

The barn quilt ‘Mona the Monarch’ was painted in my front room July of 2020 and hung outdoors in August. She valiantly held together through the Covid Pandemic, but began to decorticate March of 2022. Decorticate? What an appropriate word for the removal of an outer covering. In Mona’s case, her paint was separating from her plywood.

Mona at home 2022.

Mona at home 2022.

Made no sense. The exterior grade ¾ inch thick plywood had been sanded several times, primed three times on all surfaces, the front and sides covered with four coats of exterior grade latex paint and the front, sides and back were quadruple painted with marine grade polyurethane varnish. Somehow water had penetrated the perimeter.

The sealed edges of the barn quilt had been breached. Wet wood caused the paint to peel. Either from rain or humidity, the wood fibers expanded. This stretched the paint until it began to crack. The door was open. Repeated bouts of moisture caused the wood to act like tree roots. As the plywood ‘canvas’ absorbed moisture, the fibers enlarged then shrank as the weather became drier. All this activity undermined the many coats of paint. Only a matter of time before Mona detached and flew away.

Some woods hold paint better than others. Look at the wood grain, the pattern of the wood fibers. If the wood has a vertical grain pattern with the tree lines close together, it has good water repellency. If the wood has wide grain lines, the surface will crack, causing the paint to split and peel in a few years.

Mona's edge.

Mona’s edge.

Plywood is formed from layers of thin pieces of wood held together with adhesives, often urea formaldehyde, and heated under pressure to create a multi-laminate wood with wide grain lines. Plywood is prone to cracking as moisture fluctuates. The industry calls the cracks surface checking. Nice to know. Another potential source of moisture: rupture of the paint and polyacrylic layers at the points of attachment.

Mona faced north with a tiny overhanging roof to protect her. The shed walls are sheets of painted particle board, another composite of wood chips or sawdust held together by a resin glue. Both particle board and plywood can be very absorptive. Paint is beginning to peel along three of the sides of the barn quilt and a few places in the front. Mona was fine, but her sky was enclosing her in dried curling blue flower petals of paint.

Weeks ago, I watched an artist singe the edges of a wood panel with a blow torch before painting his picture. Idea. Use a blow torch to melt and meld the edge paint while singeing all sides around Mona. A natural border. Never mind possibly igniting the shed, overgrown grasses nearby or fuel storage tanks next door. Next idea.

Inject glue. PVA (Polyvinyl acetate) glue bonds to porous surfaces. Glue under all the detached paint layers. Glue on a lightweight frame that also covers the edges. Seal with additional coats of a water-based protective sealer. Better idea.

While spending inordinate amounts of time researching barn quilts, no place did I find anyone confessing that their quilts experienced deterioration after living outdoors for a period of time. Apparently, the on-line barn quilt examples last forever.

Monarch butterflies are in a fight for their lives. Mona represents the struggle to survive. When the stars align, the Monarch habitats are once again restored, herbicide use has diminished, and the butterflies are welcome everywhere, including Hawaii, the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand where non-migrating American Monarchs have somehow taken up residence, Monarchs can rest easier. They now have the energy to deal with the one big remaining hurdle: climate change.

Mona is under siege by the elements. She is truly the poster butterfly showing what is happening to the Monarchs.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at [email protected].

This article originally appeared on The Shawnee News-Star: Gardens of the Cross Timbers: The flight of Mona the Monarch

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