Letter From Ellen Sharp: Early Departure

Dear Butterfly People,

My husband Joel and I have a disagreement. He says no one cares about our community and that there’s nothing that we can do that will change that. I say I think that many people care about the monarch migration and its fate, but they fail to apprehend the connection between the well-being of monarchs’ Mexican neighbors and the health of the butterfly forest. We’re driving from the city where we have reliable cellphone and wifi signal back to Macheros where there isn’t any and I’m frustrated by this situation. I want to ask the world for help, help to bring our village onto the grid and into this century. Joel shakes his head, “It won’t make a difference.”

In summary, this season butterfly numbers are down and illegal logging of their forest is up. Climate change made this dry season even drier than usual, and Cerro Pelon’s butterflies have left the sanctuary the earliest we’ve ever seen them do so. By March 5th, the rangers and guardians were still seeing monarchs flying about and mating, but there was no more colony to be found. Now remigration has begun, which means that the eyes of the world are turning away our part of the world once again, making me feel more pressured to ask for this favor while I still can.

When I moved to Macheros seven years ago, I just found it ironic that the Telcel-Telmex Alliance, the non-profit arm of Mexico’s largest telecommunications company, was the corporate sponsor of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, an area that, at least where we live, isn’t served by their towers. But then Covid arrived and kids were sent home from school for a year of online learning in a place where most families aren’t online, and the neglect started to seem less benign. When the Mexican government started organizing appointments for Covid vaccinations through an online portal and a follow up phone call, this oversight started to seem deadly. Needless to say, vaccine compliance has been low thus far in our community. Now our exclusion has become a public health issue. 

Full disclosure, our place does have wifi most of the time. My ingenious husband built a series of towers to relay wifi signal from across the county. We never would have been able build an ecotourism business, fundraise for our non-profit, or launch virtual butterfly tours this season without it. But I have to say, the necessity of all of these Do-It-Yourself projects is getting old. The modems get water damaged, the wind blows the towers out of alignment, and both of us have other things we’d like to do, things that could be helped by consistent internet signal and the ability to make or receive phone calls. Things that could be helped by others in our area having access to the grid as well.

One tower built in Macheros could give not only our community but the butterfly sanctuary above us cellphone and wifi signal. On the mountain, its absence constitutes a safety issue. The trails on Cerro Pelon are rough and winding, accidents are not unheard of, and when they do happen, it can be hard to find a spot with enough signal to call for help that’s already, at best, half an hour away.

Once I started dreaming of a tower, another wish materialized. While coverage is a start, it’s not enough when very few of our neighbors own cellphones or laptops and know how to use them. Access to technology needs to be facilitated. There is an abandoned meeting hall the middle of Macheros, the perfect place for a library and computer center. A full-time librarian could help people get online. While the Nobelity Project has offered to buy books for a library project, more partners are needed to make this space usable and hire staff to maintain it. 

Lest you think I’m completely crazy, you should know that Butterflies & Their People all started with an intention I expressed in a blog post. A 2015 piece on the need to employ more people in forest protection came to the attention of the late Lincoln Brower, who used his influence to help us acquire funding to get the project started. Now we employ six full time forest guardians on Cerro Pelon. 

In that spirit, I am sending forth this desire, imagining it riding the wings of the tattered monarch mamas you’ll soon see hovering around your newly emerged milkweed. May our connections continue to flourish and grow. May other voices in our community have the means to make themselves heard.

Saludos desde Macheros,

Ellen Sharp

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