Holding Our Breath


30 de Octubre de 2018

Dear Friends,

How to describe the feeling of excitement that our town and our small villages surrounding the two Sanctuaries, “Sierra Chincua” and “El Rosario” at only some hours of our Day of the Dead gorgeous Celebration and with it, the first Monarchs appearing as if from nowhere in the middle of our mountains at the time, as the mystical sign of the spirits of our dead relatives attending the huge festivity organized in their memory to come and stay with us, according to our ancestral beliefs.

This morning, Rocinante and me started our monitoring from Sierra Chincua.  These are the the two very last days of October, and we could indeed see the first few Monarchs arriving, but, once there, Grand-Ma Lolita, wife to Don Pancho, the oldest couple of Ejidatarios at the Sierra Chincua Sanctuary, told us:

“Not yet, but you cannot imagine how anxious we are now knowing that it will be a matter of only some more hours for us to see the first Monarchs overflying our forests here in Sierra Chincua Sanctuary, in spite of the very cloudy, a little windy, rainy and cold days we are still having up today”. 

“Our men and young women are all inside the forest now,  cleaning up trails, and caring of our re-forested areas before the official opening of the Sanctuary next November 17-18;  we are hoping for a really busy season, since biologists coming to counsel and lead reforestation activities with our men have told us we might have a little higher population of Monarchs this year!  We cannot await the moment!”.

Back to town, a group of high school students from the only High School in Angangueo, were enthusiastic to make some observations at Monarchs arrival, to respond to Estela’s questions about their knowledge on Monarchs among the most important pollinators, and to even express some concerns exactly about this point.

“Yes, Estela, Monarchs shall be appearing any moment now;  we invite you to come over to our schools’ facilities to witness our great setting of ofrendas within only a couple of days now!  We are crossing our fingers so that the first Monarchs will be so accurate arriving that they might as if by magic, suddenly glide down majestically and overfly our great event as the souls of our dead great Mexicans in our history, to whom we will render memory;  we enjoy and love to learn about this ancestral festivity as part of our education at school since we were children!”.

Now, to the scientific side of Monarchs among us, —Estela asked them—, did you know that Monarchs are part of our pollinators in our region? What do you think about this?

Nadia, Alan, Elías, Marco Polo, Iván, Erick, Patricia, and Manuel, all 16 and 17-year-old and third semester high school graders, already holding the monitoring map in their hands, having previously discussed its content, responded to Estela:

“Yes, Estela. At our science class, we’ve been learning and discussing about the risk or honey-bees population in the world, being terribly affected by pesticides in their natural habitats, specially.  But, we did not know about Monarchs and bats being pollinators too!  We did know that hummingbirds were pollinators, but not up to what extent of importance!  Oh, Estela, there is so mucho to learn!  We are so happy we shared this time together today!

High school students enjoyed their observation with binoculars immensely while we exchanged and finally promised each other we would meet at their school to see them setting their ofrendas!

Once at “El Cerrito” site, Kevin and Henry both 8, and Dorian and their young father, this latter fascinated at joining us to do observations with his children at El Cerrito, they all told me once and once again:

“Yes, let’s come, but we can tell you, it would be utterly unusual to see a Monarch today or tomorrow.  Our grandparents would be full of restlessness and expectation looking at the sky by this day!  No, Estelita, our grandpa’s and parents look so much to be relying on their own experience seeing Monarchs arriving during all their life…  They know their day is from the Day of the Dead to even 2-3 days to do their triumphant parade of arrival!”

They were right. Our monitoring chart registered a lonesome zero.

Back from the surroundings of El Cerrito site, Joel 10, Martín 6, Kevin, Omar, and Eduardo 8, Dorian 6 and Henry 8, said, at enjoying their binoculars observing all around: 

“No, our moms and dads would have been shouting and telling everyone if they had seen one single Monarch popping up right now that they are so busy doing all preparations for our ofrendas at home and at the cemetery”, no, you see, Estelita, look, nothing yet!”.

Back to through the streets in town towards El Rosario Sanctuary, — just to make sure no Monarchs had been seen climbing up there by locals, lest they had escaped El Cerrito as their traditional halt—, (all can happen with Monarchs!), Iris 11, Aimar 10 and Geraldine 7, all three elementary school students, told me very sure of themselves and no giving space for doubt: 

“No, no, no! any moment now, but not before the 1st of November; two days are two days, we all know how precise they are!”.

Then Verónica, Darío and Teresa, the three of them 13 years old second middle school graders assured similarly:

“Not one seen up to now, but we shall hear immediately the moment they arrive, from all people around”.  Day of the Dead is almost here, so Monarchs, the spirits of our Dead ones should be just arriving somewhere only a few kilometers from our mountains!

Last, half down my driving to El Rosario Sanctuary, Jesús 12, and his brother Marcelo 10, both born at La Salud, one of the surrounding communities to El Rosario Sanctuary, the largest of both around us, simply confirmed all my observations of the day:

“No way that we had not seen the very first small flock of Monarchs climbing up from down there from the North up to our mountains, not at all!  They should be appearing mainly on the North-Western side of Angangueo and then, and then they will somehow Split and choose their own Sanctuary! some choosing Sierra Chincua mountains and mostly a slight larger group choosing El Rosario mountains!  Here we are, while caring after our sheep and cattle, looking down to the town’s canyon and valley to see them coming!”

Holding our breath for some more hours and standing our own great excitement for the Day of the Dead festivity and Monarchs appearing at our sky, will burst out all over, the moment the huge curtain will lift up to the eyes of all, and our majestic natural reserve with Monarchs arriving to overwinter in our mountains and Day of the Dead ancestral Mexican tradition will be open for the whole world to be admired and visited by all!

Estela Romero

Journey North Reporter

Angangueo, Michoacán, México