Monarch Migration Reaches State of Mexico Sanctuary on October 31, 2019

October 31 in Macheros, State of Mexico: waiting for the dry season to begin.

Usually in late October, the wind rips through the valley and blows the clouds away, ending the rainy season and bringing on the dry. A few years back los vientos de los muertos, as they’re called, toppled the water tank on our rooftop and tossed lawn chairs about the yard like leaves. Last October the winds never came. The sky stayed close and gray and we didn’t spot any monarchs until November 6.

It looked like we were about to have another delayed start to the season, as the clouds hung low and the air was breezy at best. Then our mason shouted from the yard that he just saw five monarchs fly by. I ran up to our rooftop where Joel was installing a window and we started counting. The clouds were coming in and out, spitting occasional rain drops, but no matter: from 1:08–1:24 pm on October 31, 2019 we spotted at least 54 determined little specks pumping their way across the sky.

Meanwhile up on the Carditos side of Cerro Pelón, the Butterflies & Their People guardians sighted many more. Starting at 12:16 pm, Leonel and Francisco counted an average of eight per minute for the next ten minutes. I hope that all these incoming monarchs found a good place to roost after we saw them, because at 2 pm the sky opened up and shot down sheets of rain.

Gray skies above Cerro Pelon on October 31. Photo by Butterflies & Their People.

We’re in the middle of planning a big event for the finish line of the Monarch Ultra. This 4,300 km relay race of ultra-marathoners started out on September 19 in Peterborough, Ontario. They’ll reach us on the morning of November 4th and run under the freshly painted archway of Macheros and up into the Cerro Pelón sanctuary. I thought that the Monarch Ultra team would get here before the butterflies did, but now, happily, they’ll be arriving together. The butterflies stage a staggered arrival: for the last two seasons, the Butterflies & Their People guardians saw new arrivals joining the Cerro Pelón colony well into December.

Macheros high school students preparing to greet the Monarch Ultra.

I’m grateful that the Monarch Ultra is coming here for many reasons. For one, I’m hoping that the attention they’re bringing will help clear up a persistent geographical confusion. And that’s this: pretty much every account of the migration you can find asserts that, “The monarchs go to Michoacán.” Michoacán’s tourism board has successfully branded this natural wonder, even though two of the four butterfly sanctuaries open to the public are in the State of Mexico. This belief is so ingrained that many of the press accounts of the Monarch Ultra still claim that they’re headed to “the Michoacán sanctuary.”

 On Google Maps, Macheros itself is not labeled. It took quite a bit of work to get our B&B on the map. The company wanted to confirm our existence with a phone call. When that wasn’t possible, they suggested a letter…

Hurried journalists are not alone in this error. After the organizers of the LocusStream Soundmap project installed a super-sensitive mike on the State of Mexico side of the Cerro Pelón sanctuary, they labeled the map for the project “Michoacán.” I made a fuss, and they changed it. One of their team members wanted to know what the big deal was, which forced me to articulate why the erasure of our location bothers me so much.

For one thing, falling on the other side of the state line makes a huge material difference in our daily lives. If the state border could be nudged just a smidge east, we would have phone signal and internet service. (As it is, we had to build the towers to bring the internet here ourselves.) We would have a mailing address and a regular garbage pickup. We wouldn’t be subjected to all day long power outages — as we are as I write this, which means I have to wait to share the wonderful news of the monarchs’ arrival with you. Abandonados and olividados (abandoned and forgotten) are words people in Macheros use to describe their relationship to the rest of the world.

November 1: Carlitos drew a picture to welcome the butterflies.

The other issue with the misnomer is that the state of Michoacán has had a dire US State Department travel warning in place for years now: “Avoid all unnecessary travel to Michoacán.” Most of the troubles in the state, including recent ones, are on its western side, which is where the drugs are smuggled in from the coast on their way to the voracious market that is the United States. But the butterfly sanctuaries are arrayed across the eastern side of Michoacán, right where the transvolcanic range spills into the State of Mexico. The blanket warning “Avoid Michoacán” does not take into account differences in particular locations or change over time. To me, it’s akin to banning all travel to the states of Illinois and Michigan because parts of Chicago and Detroit have high homicide rates.

Why suffer from the bad rap of our neighboring state if we can’t benefit from their superior services? How can we heal our neighbors’ inferiority complex if we’re not on the maps or in the guidebooks? Let it be known for the record that the monarch migration has arrived and that the leading edge was spotted midday October 31 in Macheros and the Cerro Pelón Sanctuary in the State of Mexico.

Skies over Macheros, October 31, 2019.

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