A peek at one of Mother Nature’s crazy events
Feb 7 -9
Millions of Monarch butterflies living in Eastern US and Canada migrate every winter to Mexico. The Monarchs use the very same trees (Oyamel fir trees) each year and it’s believed that they’ve made the same migration for the past 40,000 years. No one knows how each generation knows how to return to the exact firs.
There are 4 places that the butterflies visit and we decided to go to the less populated (by both butterflies and tourists) reserve called Cerro Pelon. This year 20 percent of the 60 million- 1 billion butterflies are expected to be in this preserve. The El Roserio preserve gets approximately 50 percent and other areas share the remaining 30 percent.
We’re at 9000 feet
Apparent by our shortness of breath and lowered energy, we arrived in the pueblo of Macheros, a tiny village that is putting its energies toward ecotourism and renewable resources. The people here are trying to end deforestation and working to build a tourist industry based on the Monarch butterflies and the harvesting of pine sap. You can read more below about how these two grass-roots industries are making a change in the local ecosystem.
Enough about the Monarchs! More about Me……
The positive side effect of the altitude is that my flu congestion and sinuses are improved. Unfortunately some of other members of my household have been negatively afflicted: the lower air pressure has taken its toll. My tooth paste has spontaneously oozed out in the bathroom cabinet, the Tupperware has ballooned out and my poor air mattress has developed an aneurism. I couldn’t figure out why the covers on the bed were nearly touching the ceiling until I pulled back the sheets to find this…….
Poodles learning to live with farm animals.
To my surprise, the poodles have grown so accustomed to all the barnyard creatures they’ve encountered they’re not even blinking twice at the local chickens, turkeys, sheep, cows and horses.
Hike into the “Hills”
Instead of heading up the mountain to view the butterflies I decided it would be better to relax and acclimate for a few days. Of course sitting around doing nothing wasn’t part of the program so Blake and I took a hike into the hills. We’d been given a crude map of the paths that wind their way up up up and were stumped by the presence of small cups hanging from the pine trees along the path. It was obvious that the pitch was being collected, but for what?
The Importance of Sap….
Once I started researching the use of this pitch I was thrilled to discover that KIVA, a nonprofit organization that provides loans to grassroots organizations is supporting this endeavor. It particularly pleases me because my sister Wendy donates to KIVA in my name every Christmas. Now I have an idea where to spend next year’s Christmas money 🙂 If you’re interested in this particular project or KIVA in general please click the photo below.
Apparently, the local people are being encouraged to collect the pitch in an effort to thwart the ever-increasing clearing of these forests.
We saw many varieties of flowers and at least 4 different types of hummingbirds. No wonder the Monarchs gather in the area.
By horseback to 10,000 feet we rode to where the Monarchs are gathering….
It was a ridiculously steep climb for the horses who were guided by their owners who, with seemingly effortless stamina, made the trek. As we neared 10,000 feet we began to see an occasional Monarch drift by and when we finally reached the area where the horses were left behind and we were required to walk, the number of butterflies increased. It still wasn’t the awe inspiring flurry of wings that I’d imagined. I held back my disappointment and hiked up the hill. Our guides sat on the ground along the trail and I looked up into the trees. The branches were unidentifiable with the cluster of orange bodies that coated them. I followed the example of the guides and sat down. Slowly as the sun penetrated the forest and the pine needles warmed up the butterflies lighted. Soon there was a stream of brilliant orange and dense black flitting, gliding and cartwheeling down the path. It seemed that the butterflies became a living airborne stream down the mountain. We all sat intoxicated by the magic until it was finally time to remount our horses and head back down the mountain.
So, at this point if you think it’s amazing that these butterflies can migrate 1000’s of miles and arrive at 10,000 feet to hibernate, mate and travel back North to lay their eggs you might think the rest of their story is simply impossible. The first three generations of Monarchs remain in their northern habitats. They don’t migrate but live a short lifespan pupating, eating milkweed, mating and laying eggs for the next generation. It’s only the fourth generation of Monarch that makes the long trip to Mexico and knows exactly where their specific trees are. Monarchs are a phenomenal example of genetic memory!