Tuesday, December 7, 2021

To Find a Monarch

 By Kathryn Lane

Mexico, my country of origin, is a cultural paradise. I always experience a nostalgic yearning for the traditions I grew up with, especially during the last quarter of the year, which is rich with festivities. Starting in September, we have holidays that spill over into multiple days, like the 15th and 16th of September, independence day. Posada time, from December 16th through the 24th, brings out families from entire neighborhoods where revelers of all ages gather in candle-lit processions singing Christmas carols along the streets until they arrive at the host house for that evening. At the designated home, the carolers sing “Para Pedir Posada” to reenact Mary and Joseph’s journey into Bethlehem asking for shelter before the birth of Jesus. The hosts, after several stanzas, invite the revelers in for food, drink, and games for the kiddos.

Wonderful as Christmas and Independence celebrations are, it’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on November 1st and 2nd, that makes my soul yearn for a trip to the state of Michoacan.

When I was twelve, my mother took me to Lake Pátzcuaro to experience a vigil in a cemetery where townsfolk would commune with their departed loved ones by sharing music, dance, food, and drinks.

I’ve never forgotten the scene when we arrived. Lake Pátzcuaro’s famed butterfly net fishermen, their canoes filled with bright orange cempasúchil, or marigolds, floated on the lake like a colorful flower market. The marigolds, like rays of sun dropped along the way, to lead the ancestors’ spirits into town where ofrendas, or altars, awaited them in the private homes of their earthly relatives.

We climbed into a vividly decorated canoe to navigate to Janitzio, the largest island. On the way, Mother told me Día de los Muertos is a truly Mexican tradition, a legacy of indigenous Aztec practices. The Aztecs recognized that death was part of the continuity of life. Yet Pátzcuaro is P’urhépecha¹ territory, the other powerful Mesoamerican empire, the one the Aztecs never conquered. The two empires fought many battles. Yet, the Purépecha integrated the Day of the Dead as their own.

We were mid-lake when a butterfly brushed its brilliant orange-red wings with black veins on the golden marigolds. The fisherman smiled, saying, “Está perdido este ancestro. Debe tener familia en Rosario o Angangueo.”

Mother agreed the butterfly was lost and had overflown its winter home near mountain villages. She explained that monarchs migrate yearly from Canada and the US to the high elevations of Michoacán where they cluster on oyamel trees to spend the winter. They start arriving at the end of October, coinciding with the Day of the Dead celebrations. The local people believe the butterflies are the spirits of their ancestors returning home.

I remember asking if we would visit the monarchs.

“Another year,” she said.

Yet, we never trekked to the monarch’s overwintering sites. When I see a butterfly, it reminds me of that trip we never took.

My brother, Jorge Lane, is a nature photographer and monarchs are one of his favorite subjects. He’s visited several sanctuaries to photograph them.

Carlos Gottfried, a butterfly conservationist in Mexico, said: “When you stand in a Monarch butterfly sanctuary, your soul is shaken and your life is changed.”

Gottfried’s quote beckons me to find monarchs overwintering on Oyamel firs to fulfill that trip never taken.

¹ Also known as the Tarascan.

For fun articles on Mexican holidays, you can purchase: The Insider's Guide to the Best Mexican Holidays. It will be available in Kindle format on Amazon on December 17, 2021. Nineteen authors, including yours truly, contributed articles. 


Photo credits:

Monarca Encantadora© by Jorge J. Lane

Rosario Monarca© by Jorge J. Lane



1 comment:

  1. Loved your post, Kathryn. What a rich heritage you have! For years now, I have yearned to go to the butterfly sanctuary.Maybe next year...


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