Mariposas

I’m on a braided trail that doubles as an endless staircase of loose rocks and powered dust. Left, right, it doesn’t seem to matter which trail we take, they all continue straight up the mountain. Our obligatory guide doesn’t speak a word as he races up the mountain. We are trying to make it to the top in time for the special hour, the time when we are told the monarch butterflies all start to flutter about in a large-scale social dance.

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Out of all the places in the world, this is the prime place for Monarch Butterflies (or in Spanish, Mariposas Monarca). We could say that this is their mating ground, the place where the magic starts, but things are a bit more complicated than that. From here the flutterbys (as I like to call them) initiate one of the most complex migrations in the world. After mating they lay their larvae and die. New caterpillars are born, eat from the Milkweed plants that cover this mountain, spin their cocoon, and metamorphose into majestic butterflies. Then these brilliant mosaic wonders start the trek north, ending in the southeast of the United States. There another meeting place has been designated (by some unknown process or communication).  The flutterbys then mate, leave new larvae and die. Their progeny go through the same process and then fly further north to the Great Lakes of Canada for another cycle. The generation born in Canada then fly all the way back to this spot in Mexico, which is just a couple hours outside of Mexico city, and a steep two hour hike up the mountain from our current base camp in the woods.

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The information booklet says to expect between 4 and 8 million monarchs packed in just a couple of acres, but so far I have only seen two butterflies. A French Canadian man joined our group, to avoid having to pay for his own guide. We all opted out of paying for a horse to save money (plus I’m not sure the small horses here could support me – especially up this torturous trail). Hopeful salesmen are following us with horses waiting for us to realize that this trail literally goes straight up the mountain for two straight hours. The French Canadian man eventually caved, and I was a little jealous of him. An hour into the hike my calves were burning, and I was getting desperate for a break, but Angela (who prefers uphill to downhill) was still going so I had to forego the much-wanted break. Our guide was now talking, urging us to speed up, saying that we would miss the show if we didn’t. At this point I still hadn’t seen more than a handful of butterflies.

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When we arrived we became speechless, standing in awe of the spectacle and simply soaking it in. Entire trees were covered in orange butterflies, and the branches sagged under their collective weight. When a little gust of wind swayed the trees hundreds of thousands of butterflies all took to the sky, crashing into each other, and filling the air with a sound I had never heard before. Butterflies landed on us, perfectly content to share a little moment of their life with us. We asked them about their mystery, about how they know how to navigate all the way from Canada. We became their friends and delighted in their successful completion of their journey.

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Loves,

Thad

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