Monarch Butterflies, Mothers, Sunlight, and Cornea

She greeted us from the front of her Clinic and home in Zitacuaro, the most adorable and charming woman Opthalmologist we have ever met. (Dra) Silvia Gonzales Anguiano (a cousin of our dear friend, Sergio) embraced us without any questions, except for how our trip has been so far and if we were hungry. Fresh from sailing around the Pacific coast of Puerto Vallarta, Silvia’s very thoughtful planning helped us greatly transition and journey into the mountains of continental Mexico.

Zitacuaro is a smaller town in the state of Michoacan. It is accessible via a short flight to Toluca, from where you could take a cab to the regional bus station (and buy a 2-hour ride to Zitacuaro towards Morelia, the State Capital city).

At around 2500m above sea level (ASL), Zitacuaro is the nearest centre of commerce for the rich agricultural valleys and mountains around the region. It has the classic Hispanic Plaza-Grid lay out that reminded me so much of Philippine towns. Food: Fruit-stands, taqueria, meat shops, vegetables carts, bakeshops, dulceria etc define its atmosphere. Food is everywhere and that is not an exaggeration.

Our “pilgrim” began at 9:00 AM. The road took us to Ocampo (town) and then to Angangueo in about 1.5 hours. Part of the road was being rebuilt and traffic was not very busy. But from Ocampo to the El Rosario Reserva de la Biosfera de la Mariposa Monarca, the road was paved with both bricks and stones, and thus will take some time and caution to drive through.

The landscape on the way was beautiful, and silhouettes of the sandy, semi- arid mountains and pine trees and shrubs were sometimes littered with sheep and roadside altars. The people looked at us very kindly as we bounced around inside the car. A cute boy of about 3 years old, flashed me the brightest of smiles, but with adorable reservation and shyness. I find the both the colors and the air so muted and so quiet (except for the occasional car with a megaphone selling bananas).

We were dropped off at the parking lot of the Reserve, and another eager boy came to us with a long walking stick. The cutest little man, aged 9 is named Omar. He spoke to me in Spanish. He figured out soon enough that I did not fully comprehend what he was saying, but he was unfazed. He led us to through the store stalls, (some of which were not open yet) and to the entrance of the Park.

The morning breeze was chilly, but Omar’s enthusiasm made us very jolly. We were quite sad to leave him at the foot of a big arch that says “El Rosario”. He could not officially guide us through the reserve. An adult ticket costs 50 Pesos and an official guide, a local (we gave her an amount we thought was worth her time) will be taking you through a sandy path towards one of the colonies of the Monarch butterflies.

An older lady who also never gave up on my Spanish language skills calmly ushered us through the trail. The place felt and smelled very familiar. Springtime in Canada, especially in the Rockies, transforms (explodes) spruce forests into a garden of colorful wild flowers. The heat from the sun warms the pine oils and make the aroma waft in the air with powdery dust. I smelled Calgarian summer. Sigh.

The trail slope was not steep. Wide clearings opened up views of grassy meadows. It was here in the upper meadows that we saw more and more orange wings fluttering about.

And soon enough on trickling brooks, a few clusters of the mariposas appeared. A few more would fly around white, red, and yellow flowers.

They were young and smaller, about 4 sq cm, so light and delicate. “Mariposita”, said our guide.

The epic tale of these butterflies will begin with these young ones, who were born Mexican. Over the winter they will eat and grow, and prepare for the flight towards southern USA (?) They will accomplish a flight path of thousands of miles towards where more wildflowers (i.e. milkweed, Asclepias L. ) would be growing come early March.

These Maripositas will brave and overcome any walls or borders as they have done generations before…

Is there any force in nature more persistent, possessed, and determined than that of motherhood?

Once they have caught up on the spring blossoms in US lands, they will be ready to lay their own eggs and raise their own daughters. And similar to their mothers they left in Angangueo, they will die accomplishing one of the most beautiful essences of nature and life.

And the new generation of butterflies born in the U.S.A. will continue on the flight and the chase for the blossoms of spring which will come in a few months in Canada (spring comes around soon enough in Ontario).

In Canada, this generation of monarchs will lay their eggs and raise their daughters too.

BUT here is where the epic tale climaxes:

For some mystical reasons, design, and evolution, these Canadian Maripositas will be born with a capacity and tenacity to fly distances none of their immediate mothers and grandmothers were born nor tasked to achieve.

Come autumn, when leaves start to fall in Canada, these “super generation” of butterflies will fly back to the pines trees of Angangueo where their great grandmothers have come before.

How they accomplish and navigate in one direct flight(?) crossing almost the entire continent of North America is astonishing and mind boggling…

This story of mothers and generations of butterflies speak of amazing beauty, strength, and balance: the delicate and light wings of the butterflies, the tremendous energy generated to fly, and the perseverance and faith to accomplish anything and everything for the generations to come.

The sight of dead butterflies on the ground in Angangueo is rather sad, but I trust that these creatures have lived and have blessed the earth with children just as inspiring as they are.

Dra. Silvia, a very loving mother herself, mentioned something really fascinating about the realities of sorrow, death, and our eyes: the cornea which focuses light for our eyes, is not fed directly by blood vessels; it is only nourished by tears…

Every winter (which feels like never ending) in Calgary, I suffer. My body and eyes crave for sunlight and Vitamin D. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a kind of depression that is theorized to be caused by disruption of the body’s natural circadian rhythms due to the short daylight hours in the winter season. Unfortunately, SAD affects mostly women. The symptoms can include varying levels of fatigue, sugar cravings, lethargy, weight gain etc and other Yucks. But thankfully, there is light therapy (and Mexico!) that has been the recommended non pharmacological intervention to alleviate symptoms of SAD.

Interestingly in 2015, the International Year of Light, and a timely publication on “White (Cabbage) Butterflies” of the family Pieridae revealed how the V –shaped basking (Reflectance basking) posture of this species serves as concentrator of sunlight energy to allow the butterfly take off and flight even during colder seasons.*

Last December 2015, I incorporated a not-for-profit organization in Calgary called AULA LUZ (Hall of Light) dedicated to light and lighting, health and wellness, arts, and ecology (and butterflies!).

May we all be inspired to take flight, and be transformed by Mothers, butterflies, and cornea, through light and tears and borders...


*Shanks, K,

With academic training in Geography and Environmental Engineering, Trina for years, worked around debates, designs, and issues on sustainable development. She believes that a healthy city is one that is truly worth sustaining; and that art in public spaces can spark much needed discourses on well-being, justice, and care in our urban communities.

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