Here’s a monarch tune I wrote called “Bitter to the Bone.” The chorus lyrics make reference to the monarch’s toxicity to potential predators — a protection monarch caterpillars acquire from feeding on poisonous milkweed leaves. In the second chorus, ‘bitter’ changes meaning and refers to the western monarch’s struggle to survive under precarious circumstances — industrial agriculture’s pesticide usage, the reconfiguration of waterways (i.e. the California aqueduct system and the Sacramento Delta), prolonged droughts, global warming.
Anna Tsing defines precarity as “life without the promise of stability” and “the condition of being vulnerable to others” (Tsing 2015 p. 29). The monarchs live in precarious times with their populations having plummeted in the past decades. They live in a world that is indeterminate – where everything is in flux, including their ability to survive. Being on a bike tour, one experiences a precarity of sorts. The long-distance cyclist is vulnerable the elements, to shards of glass on the shoulder, to the barrage of cars passing by, and to predators (i.e. I got chased by a pitbull yesterday).
Precarity is not only about being vulnerable to forms of harm but also to transformation and new modes of being. As a touring cyclist, one is dependent on the generosity of strangers — all the people who have put me up, fed me, listened with me, and helped me plant seeds. These experiences have reminded me of our natural inclination toward kindness-for-no-good-reason (i.e. not for righteousness or for expectation of reciprocity) — a mode of being that I’d say is a possibility condition for multispecies flourishing in an increasingly precarious world.