During this year’s spring break in May, Tola, Rascal and Pola visited their three bunny friends from Slovakia – Janka, Jolka and Jarmilka. The rabbits’ ranch was located in a small, picturesque village. Our friends went there for a special reason: the three bunny sisters had called on them for help, as they had a strange eco-mystery to solve. The mystery that should be kept secret from the bunnies’ parents. Whenever Mommy Rabbit came onto the patio where the six friends were sitting, they fell silent, pretending that they were admiring the view of the forest and the green fields.
‘Oh, I’m so happy you like it in here!’ said Mommy Rabbit with contentment, as she brought them some delicious rhubarb tea. ‘A long time ago, this area was wasteland,’ she continued, pouring them some tea. ‘The fields were neglected and the herbs and grass were dominated by weeds. No one took care of this land. There was even a small puddle in the middle of the plot. There were lots of grasshoppers, crickets, mosquitoes, and other varmints…’
‘Mom! Please don’t talk about insects like that!’ interrupted Janka.
‘You know that all insects are beneficial,’ accompanied Jolka, who was a member of the Eco-Patrol just like her sisters and our three friends.
‘Take it easy, girls.’ Mommy Rabbit shrugged and continued her story, ignoring the outrage in her daughters’ voices. ‘Our neighbours said that tiding up the whole plot would take ages! But my husband is an exceptional rabbit! When we first came across this area, he decided it would be the best place for our family to settle down. He managed to plough the earth and even out the holes in the ground. He removed the weeds, fertilised the earth, got rid of the mould and killed almost all those disgusting pests!’
‘Mom!!!’ the three daughters cried outraged.
‘What’s the matter? Isn’t it nice to sit down on the patio and not be attacked and bitten by insects?’ replied Mommy Rabbit steadily. ‘We quickly arranged some space for three fields, one for each of our daughters. The patch with radishes belongs to Janka, Jolka takes care of the corn and Jarmilka has the field with cabbages. Look, we used every inch of our plot. There is no wasteland here. After all, every metre is important, isn’t it?’ she asked, waving to her husband, who was about to finish watering the plants with rainwater.
‘Go and take a rest, kids. Tomorrow, our girls will show you the whole ranch. I’ve heard that you have some special eco-mystery to solve,’ laughed Mommy as she went back inside. She wanted to listen to Beethoven, as she was a great fan of classical music.
After the afternoon tea, the six friends went to their rooms, but they did not go straight to bed! They were discussing a very important issue late into the night. Mommy and Daddy had no idea what was going on and were a little worried.
‘Calm down, Jadwiga, we can trust them,’ said Jan, trying to calm his wife down. ‘There’s six of them, I’m sure they’ll be fine. Let’s leave them alone, okay? Kids learn a lot from doing things on their own.’
The next morning, the six friends woke up early despite their long talk the night before.
‘Mommy, we’re going outside to show Tola, Rascal and Pola our patches. We’ll be back for dinner.’
‘Wonderful!’ said Mommy Rabbit, nodding. ‘Go and have fun!’
The kids ran out of the house and beyond the carrot patches. After a while, they reached the secret place they had been talking about the previous night.
‘Stop,’ one of the sisters whispered firmly. ‘We’re here. Shhh, be quiet! Lower your heads, she can’t see you,’ she said vaguely. The six friends hid behind the radish patch.
When Tola, Pola and Rascal carefully poked their heads out from behind the leaves, they saw a beautiful, colourful butterfly – a peacock butterfly. The peacock butterfly is one of the longest living butterflies. It survives even several months in its adult form. This butterfly is very beneficial, as it pollinates flowers while drinking their nectar. But the butterfly our friends saw was behaving very strangely. The beautiful peacock butterfly was talking loudly to herself and waving around a strange little stick as she flew from one carrot to another.
‘What am I supposed to do? They’re not here… not a single one!’ The butterfly looked seemed confused as she looked around with tears shining in her eyes. She kept saying the same thing: ‘what am I supposed to do?’
‘Do you see her?’ asked Jola quietly. ‘She’s been like this for two days. Before that, she was behaving normally, flying around, tidying up, arranging things and looking for flowers. As you can see, there aren’t lots of them around here, and she is the first butterfly that has ever visited our field. It was quite a day for our Eco-Patrol since there are not many insects here. But now, our Lady Butterfly only cries and repeats that someone is missing.’
‘Did you ask her about it?’ Tola wanted to know.
‘Of course not! She doesn’t know we’re here. We were afraid to scare her away,’ admitted the three sisters.
‘When someone’s in need, we should let them know that we are ready to help them. I’ll ask her!’ said Tola and jumped from behind the patch.
‘Hello, peacock butterfly! I heard you crying and thought that you might need help,’ said Tola softly, standing right in front of the butterfly.
‘Oh! Hi!’ answered the startled butterfly. ‘You… you want to help me?’
‘Yes! In fact, not only me, but the whole Eco-Patrol,’ said Tola enthusiastically, pointing towards her friends, who had no more reason to hide in the radishes.
‘Oh, my sweet kitten!’ cried the butterfly cheering up and hugging Tola’s little nose. ‘Oh, I’m so glad you’re here,’ she said, looking at everyone. ‘Maybe you can help me rescue the grassland orchestra!’
‘Wait, what orchestra? Please tell us what happened, Lady Butterfly,’ asked Jola.
‘Oh, right… yes, yes, I’m…’ The butterfly fluttered her wings. ‘I’m so anxious! It’s a disaster! Disaster! I can’t find my orchestra… no one came…’
‘What orchestra are you talking about?’ asked Tola, growing more and more curious.
‘What orchestra?! You really don’t know anything?’ asked the startled Lady Butterfly. ‘It’s a tradition, passed down through the generations. At the beginning of May, all the insects from the local fields and meadows gather in one chosen place. We all perform a concert. Imagine the silence of a May evening broken by the beautiful music of Ludwig van Beethoven! We play his Ode to Joy. Everyone in my family was a conductor: my mom, my granny and my great-granny came here every year to conduct the grassland orchestra. The concert is organised in a different place every year, but each new generation of insects knows where to go.’
‘What do you mean by generations?’ asked Tola hesitantly.
‘You know, we insects live short lives. I, as a peacock butterfly, can live for as much as a year, but many beetles, crickets, bees and grasshoppers live for only a few weeks or months. So, every year, the children of our insect-musicians who performed the concert in the previous year gather in a chosen field to follow our tradition. Many years ago, my great-great-grandma created a map of all the fields and meadows in this region, so that all the insects could find the chosen field every year. We play on bellflowers, mint leaves and thistles. Grasshoppers and crickets use their wings, the stag beetle blows its horn, the giant peacock moth – the biggest butterfly of all – plays the harp, and the dung beetle plays the drums. That’s our orchestra,’ explained Lady Butterfly smiling. ‘But no one is here today and I don’t know what has happened. We have only one week left before the concert.’
‘Maybe they forgot about it? The spring is so warm, almost hot, maybe they’re busy drinking nectar, or collecting food, and they’ll come here later?’ asked Pola hesitantly.
‘Oh, no! I’m sure it’s not that. Look, I have my sheet music, and the note here says exactly when the insects should come. We have been performing out concert on May 9th, which is Europe day, for years. Today is May 3rd. Everyone should be here, rehearsing!’
‘So maybe you’re in the wrong place?’ suggested Rascal.
‘Me? Definitely not! I have the exact map.’
‘You said that you organise the concert on the grassland, but I don’t see any grass around here,’ said the doggy, looking around. ‘There are no red poppies, star-thistles, bellflowers, or sow thistles… there are only patches with carrots, corn and cabbages. These are our friends’ fields.’
Lady Butterfly looked at Rascal and then flew up and up. When she looked around, she sighed miserably. She realised that Rascal was right. The grassland which her great-great-grandma had drawn on the map no longer existed. The old home of different kinds of grass, herbs and flowers, and the shelter for hundreds of animal species had been ploughed and transformed into fields.
‘It’s horrible…’ wept Lady Butterfly. ‘What am I supposed to do now?’
‘Maybe we can create a new grassland here?’ suggested Janka hesitantly. ‘It wouldn’t be quite as natural, nor as big as the previous one, but we can plant herbs, flowers, and grass – all the greenery that insects like. This radish patch belongs to me. Let’s buy seedlings and plant them here. Maybe their smell will attract other insects. After that, we will think what to do next.’
‘I’m not sure whether it’s going to work,’ hesitated Lady Butterfly.
‘Me neither, but we must try!’ cried the little bunny.
As the six friends decided to turn Janka’s field into a grassland, our Eco-Patrol, along with Lady Butterfly, went to the nearest marketplace to buy seedlings. It was hard to find anything other than vegetables and fruit trees, but our friends were patient. After a long search between the stalls, they found a salesman who had herbs, grass, and flowers.
‘Let’s buy a hundred star-thistles,’ suggested Tola. ‘We will have flowers in one colour. It will look nice.’ She smiled.
‘A hundred seedlings of the same plant? That won’t work!’ opposed Lady Butterfly. ‘To invite insects to a grassland, you need to have various plants. Different insects like different colours, smells, and tastes. Some like star-thistles, others prefer red poppies, bellflowers, sage, mint flowers, thistles, and so on. If we want to attract lots of different insects, we must plant lots of different flowers and herbs.’
Our friends spent quite some time choosing seedlings. They had great fun, as they hadn’t seen so many different plants for a long time.
They put all the seedlings into a trailer, covered them with canvas, and decided to wait until the evening before planting them. Delicate seedlings should always be planted early in the morning, or in the evening. This way, the little plants have enough time to adjust to their new environment before the sun comes up. The Eco-Patrol didn’t know how the bunnies’ parents would react, so they didn’t tell them anything about their plan, just in case. As soon as the afternoon tea was over, they said they were going for a walk. They worked until the evening, planting over a hundred seedlings between the radishes.
Then they went to bed, tired, but content.
They were so exhausted by digging holes and planting seedlings, that they didn’t wake up until lunchtime. They were sitting on the patio eating apple pancakes when they saw Daddy Rabbit coming back from the fields. His trailer was full of radishes. They froze in horror.
‘Daddy, where did you get these radishes from?’ asked Janka.
‘From your field, of course. It was perfect to harvest,’ answered Daddy Rabbit with pride in his voice.
‘You took all of it?’ asked Janka, fearfully.
‘Yes, I did,’ said Daddy, looking at his daughter with surprise. ‘They were planted in even rows, so it didn’t take long to harvest them. What surprised me were the weeds that had grown in between them. Luckily, they didn’t harm the radishes.’
‘Weeds?’ repeated startled Rascal.
‘Exactly. Luckily, the radishes are fine,’ said Daddy Rabbit and went into the pantry.
Zmęczeni i zadowoleni położyli się spać.
When the six friends reached Janka’s field, they were devastated. The view was horrible. Daddy Rabbit had not only dug up the radishes, but almost all of the herbs, bee orchids, bellflowers, violets, carnations, and many other plants.
Lady Butterfly was sitting on the edge of the field. A common blue butterfly was flying around her – his species is very rare. When Lady Butterfly saw the Eco-Patrol, she fluttered up.
‘My dear friends! Everything’s destroyed. I was so happy this morning, but now I feel like crying! Kajtek found me here at dawn. He’s a common blue butterfly and the best cellist among the insects. Even our violinist, Kazik the Cricket, was attracted by the scent of the flowers. I hoped that others would come here as well, but somebody dug up all the plants. There’s nothing left! No grass, no herbs, no flowers. Nothing.’
The six friends were devastated. Pola was the first to break the long silence.
‘Listen, we can’t give up now because of one failure. It didn’t work the first time, but we have to try again.’
‘My corn patch is right there,’ said Jola. ‘Corn needs more time to grow. We can plant herbs and flowers there. We know where to go to get the plants. This time we’ll work faster.’
‘That’s a great idea!’ admitted Kajtek, the common blue butterfly. ‘Let’s get to work, instead of sitting here crying.’
So, although they were still a bit sad, the members of the Eco-Patrol, went with Lady Butterfly, Kajtek, and Kazik the Cricket to the marketplace. They quickly bought similar seedlings and planted them in the cornfield that evening. They went to bed tired again, but hoped that this time their plan would work. This time, they decided to wake up early to check whether the plants in the field were alright.
The next day, they wanted to eat their breakfast on the patio, but Mommy Rabbit didn’t allow them to go out.
‘Kids, today we’ll have breakfast inside. Before dawn, Daddy Rabbit went away to the field to spray it with pesticides. You know how harmful it is to breath in those chemicals, so we’d better stay at home for several hours.’
‘Pesticides?!’, Pola cried.
‘My field?!’ Jola added fearfully.
‘Yes, honey. We need to prevent aphids and other worms from eating our corn.’
‘Oh no!’ cried the friends and ran from the kitchen, leaving startled Mommy Rabbit alone.
‘Daddy! Daddy!!!’ yelled the bunnies.
‘Mr Rabbit! Stop!!!’ cried Tola, Rascal and Pola.
But Daddy was sitting in a closed tractor cab and didn’t hear them. He was slowly spraying pesticides over the field. When the six friends finally reached the corn patch, he had already moved to the neighbouring field.
‘Daddy, no! Stop!’
Seeing his daughters and their friends, Daddy Rabbit turned off the engine and jumped out of the cab.
‘What is it? Has something bad happened to Mommy?’ he asked, frightened.
‘No, not to mommy, to our friend!’ answered Jola, running on.
Daddy Rabbit followed his daughters to the cornfield.
‘Lady Butterfly! Kajtek! Kazik!’ the bunnies cried.
‘Lady Butterfly! Where are you?!’ cried Rascal.
But there was no sign of their new friends.
When they all reached the end of the field, they saw Lady Butterfly lying on the ground next to the blue bellflowers. She was barely breathing.
‘My dear Lady Butterfly! Don’t die! We’ll help you!’ the six friends called. ‘Is Kajtek somewhere around here?’
‘He flew… away…’ whispered Lady Butterfly, but she didn’t manage to add anything else. Pesticides are very harmful to insects.
‘What’s going on here?’ asked Daddy Rabbit. ‘Does this have anything to do with your secret task?’ he added hesitantly.
‘Oh, dad… our friend is barely alive. We need to save her!’ called Janka, looking at poor Lady Butterfly.
– Mamo, ratuj! – zawołała Jola i wskazała Rusałkę.
Pola carefully took the butterfly up in her wings.
‘Pola, you need to fly to mom immediately,’ said Daddy firmly. ‘We have medicines at home, maybe it’s not too late. Come on, let’s go!’
Mommy Rabbit went to the patio when she saw everyone running through the fields. Seeing the expressions on their faces, she realised that something bad had happened.
‘Mom! Help!’ yelled Jola, pointing at Lady Butterfly.
The Eco-Patrol finally told the bunnies’ parents what they had been doing over the last few days. They told them everything: all about the grassland concert, the insects, the lack of diversity in the fields, their shopping at the marketplace, and the two fields they planted with herbs and flowers. But what was the most important just then was Lady Butterfly. Mommy and Daddy looked at each other knowingly. They said nothing, but took good care of the butterfly. They washed her face, gave her some water to drink and fanned her so that she could breathe some fresh air. Mommy Rabbit gave her special drops that neutralized the toxins from the pesticides. They all sat with Lady Butterfly for several hours and when she finally opened her eyes, everyone sighed with relief.
‘The worst is over. You kids stay with Lady Butterfly, we have something important to do,’ said the bunnies’ parents.
The six friends took care of Lady Butterfly late into the night. Finally, being very tired, they fell asleep.
When they woke up in the morning, Lady Butterfly was awake and watching them. She was much stronger. She even fluttered her wings!
‘Oh, it’s wonderful that you feel well again!’ said the kids, relieved. ‘We were so worried about you!’
Then Mommy and Daddy came into the room.
‘Good morning, kids! Come with us, we want to show you something,’ they said mysteriously. The friends tried to guess the surprise by their expressions, but Mommy and Daddy’s faces didn’t give anything away.
‘Seeing your commitment yesterday, we realised how much you care about nature, the environment and your friends. We understood that… well, you’ll see. Come with us.’
When the six friends and Lady Butterfly went outside, they couldn’t believe their eyes! Instead of fields with vegetables, they saw a pretty grassland! Mommy and Daddy had planted so many herbs and flowers that the friends from the Eco-Patrol were stunned and speechless.
‘It’s so beautiful here!’ Lady Butterfly spoke first. ‘This is a dream grassland!’ she cried joyfully.
‘But daddy, are you sure you don’t mind replacing our carrots, cabbages and corn with grassland?’ asked the bunnies hesitantly. They knew how important the crops were to Daddy Rabbit.
‘I talked to our neighbours yesterday. Everyone had noticed that they were harvesting fewer crops since I turned the old grassland into fields. Less insects means less pollination. Bees, butterflies and other insects pollinate our crops. Thanks to this grassland, Lady Butterfly, Kajtek, and many other insects will have a place to stay. We can’t be so selfish. Every animals has the right to its own home. If turning our fields into a grassland will help them, then that’s alright.’
Soon, lots of insects came to the new grassland. After the rain, it was buzzing with life and the plants grew bigger. Butterflies, moths, bees, grasshoppers, and beetles had all gained a new home. Lady Butterfly and her friends performed an exceptional concert. Yes, it was truly an Ode to Joy!
How about you? Maybe you want to organise your Eco-Patrol too? Think about your garden or plot – where can you introduce biodiversity and plant mint, camomile, cornflowers, or red poppies? Talk about it with your parents. If you live in the countryside, maybe you can ask your parents and grandparents to arrange some ground for a grassland? Such places are really important for plants and animals – even more so than you might expect.
The tale was prepared within Kids for Eco-Action Project, co-financed by the Governments of Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia through Visegrad Grants from International Visegrad Fund. The mission of the fund is to advance ideas for sustainable regional cooperation in Central Europe.