[General note: I wrote the last two Field Notes, as well as most of this one, while in Mexico. I don't know why, but the theme of community kept showing up in almost everything that I wrote while there. At the end of this Field Note is something that I've been thinking about recently. If you read the postnote and think you might be interested please drop me a note. I'll be on a trip for the next few days, but will get back to you as soon as I can when I return.]

I think of the monarch butterflies story as one of the natural wonders of the world. To fully appreciate it you have to understand what is happening right now as they leave the wintering grounds. In late February the butterflies begin to mate. The rising heat of the day brings them out of the stupor that they have been in since arriving in November. As they begin to take wing during the sun lit hours of the day they pair off. I saw many monarch pairs at my feet, trembling together as the next cycle of life began. In March the butterflies begin to leave the wintering ground heading generally north and fanning out east and west.

They don't make it further than Texas. In Texas begins a process that is slowly played out across the face of North America till the end of summer. As spring begins in Texas the milkweed plants begin to grow. The monarch migration is timed so that the butterflies arrive in Texas to lay eggs on the new milkweed plants. Milkweed is the only plant that the caterpillar stage of the monarch can eat.

As spring and summer progress this sequence occurs over and over again. First the range of live milkweed is expanded, then the latest generation of monarch butterflies shows up, lays eggs and dies, leaving the next generation to continue. When the final generation of the year flies in early fall there is not a single monarch alive that has ever been to the wintering grounds. And yet hundreds of millions of butterflies find their way back to the same wintering grounds, often to the same tree that last year's butterflies roosted on.

That such an incredible feat happens is a miracle not just of biology, but also of the cultures that are tied together by the monarch.

The horse that I rode up the mountain to the remote sanctuary was handled by a young man named Salvador who appeared to be around 11 years old. That made him old enough to have reached 3rd grade, where most of the local indians end their education. After finishing photographing the wintering grounds for the day we journeyed back to town where I had a wonderful meal of fresh trout cooked by a resident Indian. While I enjoyed the meal of trout, onions, cucumbers, avocado, tortillas and pears I also shared the patio with a sweet dog, a chicken and a hen turkey who kept parading her new chicks through the patio. (The oldest chick was shooed out of the kitchen twice.)

These were beautiful, friendly people. Their existence is united with ours by the monarch butterflies that will float through our lives this summer. The men in this village can only afford to live with their families during the months of the monarch, when visitors pay to see the wintering grounds. The rest of the year they have to leave their families to seek work elsewhere. The town these Indians live in is so remote that when I tried to get Salvador's address I learned that mail was not delivered to the town. It is a different situation than ours, with different dilemmas. A single tree in the wintering grounds can bring in $350 if cut, that leads to a pretty tough decision for the people living in the village. Sometimes we get the mindset that the wildlife around us is somehow "ours". But migrating animals make it abundantly clear that they do not belong to local communities, they are instead a thread that ties together distant and diverse communities into one.

The monarch lives a very complicated life, but not one that is out of our reach to understand and help. I believe that as we evolve we need to nurture a deeper understanding and empathy for all life. The monarch has several critical phases in its life and we can help it along in several ways. Plant milkweed in your garden, school grounds or even along the side of the road. If you release monarch butterflies as part of a school project make sure that milkweed is available where you release it. If you are planning a trip next winter consider traveling to Cerre Pelon, seeing a true wonder of the world and helping make sure that your larger community is able to support the wildlife that ties us together.

I saved this image for last... It's almost unbelievable if you've not seen al the others.

[Postnote: The last day in Mexico as I traveled across Michoacan I was struck by how different this state is from what I normally think of as Mexico. There were huge, beautiful forests, voluptuous mountains, lakes, colonial areas as well as poor areas, and temperate and tropical environments in the same state, a coastline on the pacific ocean, and lots of color. On the drive I kept seeing places that I longed to explore, and I found myself thinking about a walk or a bike ride across the state. This is considered by some as the most beautiful part of Mexico, and yet I know so little about it.

When my oldest girl was in high school she was part of an exchange program between Michigan and Shiga, Japan. I kept thinking about something similar with Michoacan. I know that it is too late to do anything this school year, but I'm wondering if there is anyone out there that would be interested in doing some type of an exchange with classrooms and people in Michoacan? If I was able to put you in contact with a classroom in Michoacan or an individual there, would you be interested in interacting with them? I think it would be great to have a partner class or person in another country where you each get to share culture, learn each other's language, and know a little more about the larger community. If you are at all interested please send me email. I know people are now reading these notes in 5 states... this is a suggestion for everyone reading this, regardless of where they are, in school or out.]

Charles St. Charles III

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