In some ways the world has gotten better as we baby boomers have matured. And in other ways, not. That’s what worries retired engineer and active author Ron Gompertz, whose home is Seattle but his resting place right now is in Mexico. That’s where he has fallen in love with monarchs and kings.

We have devalued the word “awesome” to mean something between good and great. So if a perfect latte or Netflix series is now “awesome,” witnessing tens of thousands of Canadian monarch butterflies fluttering among the pines of the Mexican state of Michoacán is “cosmic,” like making eye contact with evolution.

I don’t know the sound of one hand clapping but I do now know the sound of thousands of butterflies flapping. When the sun comes out from behind a cloud and the clusters of monarchs hanging from the trees warm up enough to fly, they take to the air and sound like a light rain in a whispering breeze.

The butterflies we saw are the “super generation” that comes all the way down from Canada. It takes four shorter-lived generations to return.

Awesome in the original sense of the word. Awe inspiring.

Speaking of monarchs, we just had a celebration day — January 6th — known in Spanish as “Reyes,” or “Epiphany” in English. Reyes celebrates the three kings from the Orient who visited the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Santa Claus is a relatively minor player in Mexico, where the Reyes are king. They deliver the presents and have rockstar status.

Ron Gompertz … as a butterfly.

After visiting the forest to see the butterflies, we were in the small “pueblo mágico” of Angangueo the evening the kings arrived in the central plaza.

When we lived in a rich village near Barcelona , we saw kings arrive by helicopter. Here, in a less prosperous part of the world, a former silver mining village that depends on a few months of butterfly tourism for its livelihood, the kings arrive on the back of a pickup truck to a loudspeaker blaring kiddie Christmas songs by Alvino and the Mexican Chipmunks.

Mural painted on a street side wall.

Kids were everywhere as the kings threw footballs and futbols (a.k.a. soccer balls) into the adoring crowd. After the initial excitement, the kings and the faithful went to mass while the kids turned the plaza into an elaborate kickball game.

Reyes/Epiphany marks the end of Christmas festivities. The butterflies, however, are here until late March. Many enlightened decisions are needed or they won’t be here at all.

Angangueo was a silver mining town whose dangerous livelihood gradually was destroying the watershed and forests. While seasonal tourism has not replaced the jobs lost, it now supplements and helps to sustain the region.

Illegal deforestation in and around the protected reserves puts the terminus at risk, just as climate change and herbicides that destroy the life-sustaining milkweed put the beautiful insects at risk along their entire route.

This was an amazing and unforgettable experience, like touching the beating heart of Mother Nature.

I hope we are noble enough to protect these delicate monarchs.


Ron’s book is Life’s Big Zoo.


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