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  • Geoff Cordner

The Butterfly Effect




In late February 2021 Linda and I set off on a road trip to Victoria, en route to a family wedding scheduled to take place in the Yarra Valley on the last day of summer. As has become a bit of a tradition in recent times, we decided to download a few of Richard Fidler’s Conversations (https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/) to keep us entertained on the journey.


Richard’s interviews with the engagingly nerdish Cloudspotter, Gavin Pretor-Pinney (trust me, you will never look at, or think about clouds in the same way again after hearing Gavin) and John Baker (recounting his fascinating search for Joseph Stalin’s wine cellar) having gripped us from start to finish, we could hardly wait for our next instalment.


When we originally chose a Conversation with the unheralded and unfamiliar Benjamin Jordan to be one of our select group of travel podcasts you might correctly surmise that it was the title alone that compelled us to do so. Benjamin’s Epic Flight simply demanded our attention; particularly when we discovered, upon reading the 26‑word online description, that it related, somehow, to butterflies.


Linda, Tim and I all have something that represents a very personal connection with Ben’s memory and spirit ‑ an earthly manifestation of The Beniverse as it were – and which is unique for each of us. Tim’s is the Black Cockatoo. For me, currently, it is the number 86 (for reasons which will be explained here in a forthcoming article). And for Linda it is the butterfly. But more of that later.


Benjamin Jordan is probably best described as an adventurer. Like many great adventurers, what he does seems to sit somewhere within the common ground of an adjectival Venn diagram linking the following characteristics: Foolhardy, Breathtaking, Inspirational.


Benjamin is a paraglider. But far from being someone who undertakes that activity for a bit of occasional adrenalin-charged recreation and release, Benjamin has effectively made his paragliding journeys, and the recording of them in one form or another, his life’s work. And these are no ordinary journeys. They often seem to involve distances of hundreds, even thousands of kilometres across some of the most unforgiving terrain on the planet; usually solo flights, and often with little or no readily available human assistance or back-up supplies if things don’t go according to plan.



It seems one of the defining moments in Benjamin’s career occurred in January 2015 when, as a result of unfavourable conditions, he was forced to land his paraglider in a field in central Mexico many kilometres from his intended destination, and adjacent to a heavily forested area. What he did not realise then, but soon discovered, was that the random, almost inaccessible place he had descended upon was the very spot where millions upon millions of migrating Monarch butterflies, travelling by air from Canada, where Benjamin himself is from, spend their winters.


There are a couple of things about this story which make it even more extraordinary. The Monarch butterflies make this journey, many thousands of kilometres in length, from all parts of Canada to just a handful of very specific locations in Mexico which they have never visited before, but which have been visited, in preceding winters, by their ancestors. (The Monarchs arriving in Mexico each year cannot possibly have been there before because their lifespan is well less than 12 months). And the area in Mexico occupied by the migrating Monarchs that Benjamin happened upon, through serendipitous misadventure, is less than one square kilometre in size, within a country of almost 2 million square kilometres.


The effect of this experience upon Benjamin has been life-altering it seems. He has devoted much of the past six years to learning as much as he can about the Monarch butterfly; in particular, trying to understand how it navigates its epic, and equally life-defining journey, and endeavouring to appreciate the challenges it meets along the way. The most immediately concerning of these challenges is the rapidly diminishing quantity of milkweed to be found in key locations, principally as a result of deforestation and fires - with milkweed being apparently the only source of food that can sustain the Monarch. And so Benjamin has become a vigorous campaigner for the planting of more milkweed, the proliferation of which is so crucial to arresting the rapid and disturbing decline in the world’s Monarch population.


Benjamin has also, within the past year, completed a record-setting paragliding expedition across the entire breadth of the United States – south to north from Mexico to Canada – in doing so simulating the flight of his beloved Monarch butterfly back to its homeland at winter’s end.


Listening to Benjamin’s story it was hard not to get caught up in his remarkable journey – both as a skybreaking paraglider, and as an existential human being. The admiration, bordering on reverence, he feels for the beautiful creature that has given his life new meaning and purpose is palpable.


Having been moved by Benjamin’s tale of these amazing butterflies I asked Linda at the end of the podcast to tell me again the story of why this same creature holds such importance for her. That story goes something like this.


In the fortnight before his death Ben and Linda were sitting on the patio overlooking the rear yard of our house when Linda noticed a golden capsule resting amongst the leaves of one of the potted plants that reside in the corners of that area. She plucked the capsule out, and showed it to Ben, whose inquisitive mind led him to immediately investigate what it might be on the internet. As Linda prepared to dispose of the capsule, which she feared might contain a creature that would feed on the leaves of her plants, Ben implored her not to.

“It’s a chrysalis Mum. If we leave it where it is it’ll turn into a butterfly”.


Ben was so adamant in pleading his case that she not interfere with nature’s course Linda felt she had no choice but to comply.


The next time she looked at those plants, some weeks later, she discovered the golden chrysalis had turned a darker colour – a sign that a new life had emerged. A life owed to our beautiful boy, who had lost his own during the days in between.


Many months after Ben’s death I was doing a crossword in which the particular clue I was wrestling with required a 3-letter word for a tree. None of the usual culprits – oak, elm, fir - seemed applicable, so I decided to scour the world wide web for alternatives. (It was a very slow day I guess). Incredibly, my search threw up no less than 16 different possibilities, helpfully delivered to me in alphabetical order. And it was the third of these, following closely behind Ash and Bay, that made me scratch my head, figuratively at least, and abandon my crossword for good. Because according to bestforpuzzles.com there is such a thing as a Ben tree. That was news to me, and I was eager to know more.


It turns out that the “Ben tree” (in truth a shrub) is more accurately known as Ficus Benjamina. And as I looked at the picture of the Ficus Benjamina that accompanied my search result it suddenly began to look very very familiar. I read on.


The Ficus Benjamina, although popularly referred to as a weeping fig or a Benjamin fig in other parts of the world, is more commonly known in Australia as a plain old Ficus. And it is this very plant that sits on our back patio, this very plant which housed the golden chrysalis that caught Linda’s eye back in January 2019, and this very plant from which a butterfly, given life by our younger son, would first spread its glorious wings, and go on to experience the limitless beauty and unpredictable calamity this incredible world has to offer.




I am pleased to report a significant postscript to this story. Since initially writing it I have forwarded a draft to Benjamin Jordan himself (benjaminjordan.com) – primarily to ensure its factual accuracy in so far as my paraphrasing of Benjamin’s Epic Flight is concerned. In truth I was not really expecting to receive a reply. Much to my delight, not only did he respond in very quick time, but Benjamin also gave his unequivocal support to the publication of this piece, along with his very kind permission to use photographs from his website by way of illustration of it.


So a huge vote of thanks to you Benjamin. Your support for The Beniverse, of which you are now an integral part, means a great deal.


And to those of you who have been moved by Benjamin’s journey, campaign, and generosity we encourage you to learn more at monarcaexpedition.com.



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