Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Kingdom Ruled By A Monarchy

We had arrived a couple of days early; the winter kingdom of the monarch butterfly was not open to the general public.  The sanctuary El Rosio, in Michoacan Mexico,  was adamant that visitors would not be admitted until the weekend. Fortunately, a persistent host and a few extra greenbacks convinced the caretaker of one of the much smaller sanctuaries to allow us a private entry to the sacred lands.
As we began our  adventure I couldn't help but feel honored that not only had we been granted permission to enter this enchanted forest, but, apart from our two guides, my mother and I would be alone with thousands of butterflies.  We were not permitted to make the journey by foot, my preferred mode of transportation. Instead I found myself seated upon a scrawny horse.  I know it was to charge us more, but who was I to complain; after all we had already been granted  a privilege that I had dreamed about for years.  I was able to walk part of the way by switching places with my guide, but in the end the scrawny horse turned out to be a blessing in disguise since the rough journey took over 2 hours and climbed over 3,500 feet.
As we ascended the steep slopes and went deeper into the wooded forest our guides described our surroundings and the effect that illegal logging had had on the area.  We were told how the community had come together to protect the forest, and how they would actively search out anyone who cut down trees.
The views from the trail were spectacular.  As we neared the top of the hill we were required to leave the horses and finish the journey on foot.  Suddenly the trail in front of us filled with hundreds of dancing butterflies.  I gasped in delight.  However, the true spectacle was not on the trail, but high in the branches of the surrounding tall firs.  When Jesus pointed upward, at first I thought he was showing me the size of the boughs that were gently swaying in the mid-morning breeze.  But there was no breeze, and the boughs were not heavy with pine needles. Instead, there were thousands of butterflies sitting on the branches.  Slowly they fluttered their wings, still tired from the 2,000+ journey they have just made from north of the border. Just a week earlier, the first butterflies had arrived at the sanctuary marking the beginning of the yearly The Day of the Dead celebration.  For the locals, the butterflies represent the return of their departed loved ones to the terrestrial realm.

Our guides encouraged us to lay on the ground so that we could fully appreciate our surroundings.  At first the butterflies movements were sluggish, but as the early morning sun warmed the air the slow pulsating of their wings became more rapid. Gradually the small creatures took to the sky and our surroundings came alive.  The air thick with movement which brought a gentle hum to our ears.  I have never seen a forest so alive. At first I felt as though I was intruding on a sacred ceremony, but then one of mother nature's small creatures landed on my hand, inviting me to join in the celebration of a life.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing such a descriptive post. We have wanted to visit this area for a long time. We grew up in California where they also hibernate over the winter and it is amazing. They are such a facinating butterfly. To think that it takes several generations to make it north to Canada and one generation travels south for the winter. Such a dangerous journey.

    We grow milkweed in our garden hoping someday they will visit us in Western Washington - no luck. They stay to the east where it is warmer. But we can dream

  2. @ Marta, if you get a chance it is such a wonderful place to visit. We were so lucky to be able to visit without the crowds.
    I love that you grow milkweed in your garden--you never know when dreams will come true.