Each autumn, dozens of reared or captured Monarch butterflies begin their migration from the chess circle in Captain MacDonald Park, Forest Hills, New York City to the mountains and valleys of Mexico. Once tagged and released by chess players and children, Monarchs must survive a perilous journey of over 2,000 miles, where storms, birds resistant to their toxicity, and predatory insects await them.
Seemingly delicate and fragile upon the wind, like a subtle game of chess they can be evasive, illusive and tough. Over generations, spring and summer Monarchs continue north across the Eastern United States, up into Canada until some invisible message from nature (more reliable than NAFTA), calls millions of recently emerged Monarchs back to specific sites to over-winter in Mexico, a place unknown to them. How they return to the same hillside, even the very tree of their ancestors poses a mystery as magic as the orange and black Monarch is beautiful.
Easily reared and released, other butterflies and moths as well as Monarchs make excellent seasonal pets, using a jar or two with Pin-holed caps and the caterpillar’s food plants. Monarch larva strictly eat milkweed and their eggs can be found on this host plant. (Pick up a Peterson’s guide on caterpillars or see Monarchwatch.org for complete information and tagging.) Perhaps, one of the tagged Queens Chess butterflies will be recovered among the 20-100 million headed for Mexico and some of the grandest chess tournaments in the Americas.
No sign of butterflies in winter (unless your brandy takes effect), the lonely park belongs to snow, sleeping trees and frigid concrete. But only a squirrel’s leap away lands you at The Susan Polgar Chess Center. And with a short subway or cab ride, The Queens Chess club or the Steinway Cafe offer warmth and hospitality.
Often, chess elegantly, beautifully touches the curious mind, and together with the release of majestic Monarchs creates an association for children, and through children, revives an appreciation, a sense of wonder that sets our spirit free to soar on the wings of a butterfly.