Monarch Butterfly

Danaus plexippus

Every year, more than a hundred million monarch butterflies in the U.S. and Canada go south for the winter, flying more than ninety miles a day for up to 3,000 miles. Monarchs living west of the Rockies aim for Baja California, while those living east of the Rockies head for the mountains five hours northwest of Mexico City. The monarchs are able to biosynthesize magnetite from their diet of milkweed, enabling them to fly at night using magnetic fields as a compass. Ever since he read about the migration in National Geographic ten years ago, Portland-based filmmaker Dennis Fitzgerald wanted to shoot a music video with the butterflies as a backdrop, but he wasn’t about to squander such a magical sight on any old song. Like a patient Prince Charming, he waited for a song that fit.

That song was The Shins’ “Saint Simon,” the fifth track on the band’s second album, Chutes Too Narrow.

Fitzgerald had directed the video for another Shins song, “Kissing the Lipless,” the year before; he and lead singer James Mercer were friends who worked well together. Though they had a shared vision for “Saint Simon,” coordinating the schedule of the band and the butterflies proved challenging, and a year went by before SubPop, the Shins’ label, gave the green light. But once they did, they offered to both pay for the video and surrender artistic control to Fitzgerald.

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—Erin Ergenbright

Erin Ergenbright earned her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the coauthor of The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook, and her work has appeared in Tin House, Portland Monthly, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Portland, where she is a codirector of the Loggernaut Reading Series.

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