Letter From Ellen Sharp: First Visit to El Capulin


Published: 11/24/2021

Dear Butterfly People,

On Sunday we made our first visit to one of Cerro Pelon’s three monarch colonies. The sun came and went all day throughout our two-hour ascent, and I kept my eyes on my footing on the rocky switchbacks. When we stopped to rest halfway up, the forest came alive. The “coa coa” of the mountain trogon calling to its mate intermingled with the tinkly scales of the brown-backed solitare. 

Once we got closer to the butterfly colony, we started stepping over wood chips and tree debris. Toppled oyamel trees held onto their evergreen. “That why it’s good to use them for wreathes,” my sister-in-law Ana remarked tersely. She walked ahead, documenting the destruction. It had been hard to see all the logging when we’d walked this same path to the colony last November. This year there were at least four times as many trees down on the ground. “I felt like crying when I saw all that,” Ana admitted later.

We passed through the decimation of the monarchs’ former roost in La Lagunita and ascended to a place people call El Capulin. Dark specks circled the skies above, pressed down by clouds. Then we reached the trees, a mix of pine and fir, blinking with orange. When I looked up, my heart soared to see so many monarchs filling the air and alighting on the trees. When I looked down, my heart sank. Even here, right next to the colony lay tumbled trees. 

“They don’t even let them grow,” my mother-in-law Rosa clucked. “They’re chopping down the reforestation. You can’t even get that much money for trees that small.”

One of the Butterflies & Their People forest guardians joined her for this head shaking conversation. She told him about her brothers-in-law who used to do illegal logging. “No se rinde,” she said. In other words, the money they made on it never amounted to anything. “They spent it all on liquor and women. My poor sisters.” One of these husbands died of cirrhosis. The other one migrated to the US and got it together.

“It’s like these kids,” the guardian responded. “The money they make goes to buying beer and betting on cock fights.”

Just then a secret memo reached the monarchs. They poured forth from their trees all at once, filling the sky, pulling our attention upward.

“This is incredible though,” Rosa smiled. “I haven’t seen this many in years.”

Saludos desde Macheros,

Ellen Sharp

P.S. On November 14, Butterflies & Their People forest guardian Francisco Moreno recovered the first monarch tag of the season in Mexico. You can watch the story here in this sneak preview of the forthcoming issue of Adopt a Colony