A Little Butterfly Background

Early last spring I took a trip to see where the Monarch butterflies spend their winters in the pine forest highlands of central Mexico. It was a magical experience to witness many millions of these beautiful creatures swaying together in great swaths hanging down from branches laden with their number.

The amazing Monarch!

The amazing Monarch!

As I learned the facts of their cycle of migration I came to see the Monarch as a fantastic symbol for all the magic in the world. I wrote a post about that here and included a video I made of what they look like en masse in Michoacan. It’s worth the click.

  • MEXICO – In short what happens is the butterflies you see in the video in the link above spend the winter, from mid-October until some time in March staying warm together in that forest.
  • TEXAS – In the spring they all begin to fly north. These butterflies will make as far as Texas or the latitudinal equivalent where they will mate, lay eggs and die. 
  • ILLINOIS – The offspring caterpillars will grow and pupate and themselves become butterflies that will resume the northward journey in early summer this time making it as far as Illinois, or its latitudinal equivalent.
  • CANADA – They then will mate and die and their offspring caterpillars will grow, pupate and become butterflies that will then take up the journey again and make it into Canada. These butterflies will then mate and die and their caterpillar offspring will become the butterflies that…
  • MEXICO – In the fall, will fly the entire journey back south, over a thousand miles beginning in late summer through mid-fall.

That is the magic. Three generations go up, and only the final one, the great grand children of the ones that started come back down to initiate the wave next year. How does each succeeding generation know where to go, and why? No one knows.

Knowing Their Cycle Changes You

Once people become aware of this cycle, they become changed, even if just a little. The magic of the Monarch relies on milkweed as a crucial resource during the spring flights. Monarch caterpillars have developed through the eons to be able to subsist on nothing else. The species has developed a integral relationship with this plant that agribusiness is all but wiping out with herbicides. Gardeners everywhere are learning of this diminishment and are planting milkweed native to their regions to help the caterpillars. Learn more here.

Joyfully Raising Awareness

With more awareness, will come more milkweed gardeners! This was the kernel of the idea behind a live art installation conceived of by dancer and artist Mari Osa who calls her art #DanzaVida. She lives in San Miguel de Allende one of the creative hubs of all of Mexico. She calls this piece “Monarca Mujeres” or Monarch Women. I think it’s interesting point out that Mari Osa’s name is one consonant away from being the word for butterfly in Spanish ‘mariposa’. It’s coincidental, but then again, with the Magic of Monarchs who knows?

Monarca Mujeres

My skirt catching some rays before the big event

My skirt catching some rays before the big event

Jesus Alexandre

Jesus Alexandre (photo: Andrea Gu)

Her idea was to have as many participants as she could interest agree to make a butterfly skirt she and a friend designed. To this end she held several workshops throughout the summer months. Because “Dia de los Muertos” is such a popular holiday here in Mexico, she knew the activities surrounding the Day of the Dead would provide the perfect opportunity for the #DanzaVida Monarca Mujeres to make an appearance.

We didn’t have to dance or perform at all, our task was simply to be an extremely photogenic group in a beautiful city at a time when a lot of people would be mingling about with cameras. An important aspect of the piece is in the photos Mari knew would be taken and posted throughout people’s social media pages and accounts. Cards were handed out with the suggestion people use the tag #danzavida when posting the photos they took of us. Another suggested was: #MonarcaMujeres. Both different enough to not have a lot of alternate use.

She hired a professional photographer, a very talented young Mexican named Jesus Alexandre (check out his work here) who had us assemble into several key locations and strike meaningful poses. If I ever wanted to know what it’s like to feel a moment of fame, this was the perfect opportunity to feel that. We all probably had more photos taken of us, good and bad,in the two hours we strolled through the Jardin in front of the iconic paroquia than the sum total of photos of any of us up until that point in our lives!

Let The Art Shine Through

Mikey's photo of someone else taking a photo of the #DanzaVida #MonarcaMujeres

Mikey’s photo of someone else taking a photo of the #DanzaVida #MonarcaMujeres

Happily we were all in full on Katrina face paint and so none of minded the exposure, so to speak. Good art will do that; make the artists invisible, but allow for the piece itself to shine brightly.

Everyone who participated including two women who made skirts on their own and flew down just to be a part of this, became impressed by how a collective with shared intentions can become a thing of beauty. I think the onlookers felt the same way. You can judge for yourself. My husband, Mike McGinnis, took some wonderful photos of our time in the jardin.

And Then……Some Monarch Magic

We finished up around 7pm and by the time Mike and I drove in the dark back up to our home up on a hill about 6 miles from downtown San Miguel a small piece of Monarch Magic was waiting for us. As I was throwing together the dog’s dinner, I had the door open to allow them easy in and out access, and right after each of the four settled into the ritual gobbling at the speed of light their little feast into the kitchen fluttered a butterfly! Not just any butterfly. Oh no. A Monarch Butterfly!

What makes that so magical? Well for starters where we live isn’t on their regular flight path at all. They follow the Sierra Madre mountains down to their forest dwelling and we’re many miles from those. Since moving here last summer I have seen maybe six Monarchs all told over the course of 12 months, and never in the house and certainly not at night! This one flew in with such determination, it was as though she had been waiting for the door to open.

When she slowed down a second I was able to cup my hands gently around her and get her back to freedom. Message of good will most definitively received. This tiny visiter delivered what feels like a massively positive good omen. You can’t argue with the timing and the delivery, am I right? But it gets even better.

Even More Magic….

As I basked in the warm glow of the lucky feelings bestowed by our colorful little bearer all the following day you can probably imagine how my jaw dropped when as we returned from decorating the grave of a friend in a local cemetery for Day of the Dead hopping out of the car we saw dozens of Monarchs settling into some of our trees for the night. Now what makes this so special is they fluttered in one by one from different directions as much as a minute or two apart, but all found each other and formed miniature versions of the hanging groups they make when they number in the millions. Somehow our tiny ranchito became a stopping off point for these few monarchs on this particular day, right after we had celebrated them so heartily!

The photo that started this blog post off? Not Michoacan, but Cabras, November 2, 2015. A beautiful, meaningful miracle.

Coincidence? Not to me.