To reach the wintering grounds of the Monarch Butterflies we rode small horses up the mountainside. These are transvolcanic mountains in the Sierra Madre range of Mexico. Formed relatively recently by the actions of volcanos, these mountains are steep and high in altitude. I was very appreciative of the efforts of my horse!

Roughly a dozen of us rode for an hour accompanied by our native guides. I was near the tail end of the line and as we wound our way single file up the mountain the rest of the group faded in and out of view. Along the trail Monarch Butterflies floated down the mountainside. At one point the trail passed through an opening of bright sunshine. The riders ahead of me flushed up a large swarm of butterflies and as the monarchs rose up and then settled behind the horses it was as if the other riders had been engulfed in a living flurry of orange and black wings.

When we reached the sanctuary near the top of the mountain we walked along the core of the wintering grounds. Between the ridge that we stood on and the next ridge over was a valley filled with millions of monarch butterflies. On the shadow side of the large Oyamel Fir trees the butterflies covered every square inch of trunk and branch. With their wings folded up they pressed close together, sustained by the collective warmth of their bodies. On the side of the trees where the light filtered through the canopy the butterflies, invigorated by the sun's energy, flew down the valley in search of water and food and to breed. As I watched the flow of orange down the mountain the phrase "River of Life" came to my mind.

In ecology there is an idea called the Gaia Hypothesis that says that the earth can be thought of as a single, self regulating living organism. In some ways migrations are like blood coursing through the super organism that we all live in. Each waterway, flyway, and trail used as a migration path is like a vein, delivering  nourishment and resources across the body of our planet. A single butterfly seems so inconsequential, but millions, even a billion butterflies are a different matter. In the monarch sanctuary I saw and heard part of a tree break from the combined weight of the monarchs roosting on it. It was mind boggling how many butterflies had journeyed to this tiny remote mountainside.  Before me was more life in one place than I had ever consciously seen before. There was no denying that I was witnessing part of an enormous phenomena played out across the face of the earth, that the River of Life was part of something much greater than any individual, you and I included.

In the last few months I have been privileged to see many "Rivers of Life" flowing across the face of the earth. I felt an electric like wave pass through me as over 10,000 snow geese flew over me in the pre dawn hour in New Mexico. I saw pods of enormous Humpback Whales languidly swimming past the coast of Hawaii at the end of their journey from Alaska. I watched gathering flocks of song birds filter through my property in Michigan on their way to places unknown to me. And now I watched the orange river of life in Mexico as the monarchs streamed by.

Most of us live in the daily and seasonal rhythm of  fairly small areas. At one time or another most of us also feel a need to belong to something larger to give our lives purpose. By stepping back from the rhythms of my local community and exploring fantastic journeys of other animal's lives I've become increasingly conscious of a larger community, and of something larger than all of us, that gives meaning to all life

Charles St. Charles III



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