Last week I had the joy of presenting my Monarch documentary Beauty on the Wing to a wonderful bunch of sixth, seventh, and eighth grade O’Maley students. I was invited by the school’s Spanish teacher Heidi Wakeman. Ardis Francour’s library media classes participated as well. The kids were wonderfully engaged and asked the best questions!
Heidi shared their thank you notes. I am so impressed by the kids expressive notes and drawings. Here are just some of their thoughts : Olivia writes, “…The documentary was super interesting and informed me on a topic I didn’t know much about…, ” and Brady writes, ” My favorite part was when you showed the butterfly escaping the chrysalis.” I shared the notes with my husband this morning and we both enjoyed Cassidy’s comment, …”It is crazy that it took ten years to make, that must take a lot of dedication and patience.” Yes, Cassidy it does take a lot of dedication and patience, and YES, it is a bit crazy!
Thanks so much again O’Maley students, Heidi, Ardis, and the Gloucester Cultural Council! it was My Joy!
For further reading and some terrific background information, see the following article, published by the NRDC in early February of this year. Scenes from Beauty on the Wing were filmed at the stunning forest at the Cerro Pelón Monarch Butterfly sanctuary.
For a Family in Mexico, a Mission to Protect Monarchs
Siblings Joel, Anayeli, and Patricio Moreno see the future of their community and that of the butterflies that migrate annually to the local Cerro Pelón forest as being intimately connected.
If there’s something that the Moreno family agrees on, it’s that monarch butterflies changed their lives. And not just their own but the lives of most in Macheros, Mexico. The agricultural village of 400 people—whose name translates to “stables” in Spanish, because of the 100 horses that also make their home here—sits at the entrance to Cerro Pelón, one of four sanctuaries in Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, established by the federal government in 1986.
It started when Melquiades Moreno de Jesus secured a job as a forest ranger, or guardabosque, in 1982. Six years earlier, National Geographic had run a feature on monarch migration, bringing international attention to the butterflies’ overwintering sites in the mountainous oyamel fir forests some 80 miles west of Mexico City—though locals had discovered the colonies long before outsiders descended on the area. Soon after that publication, the State of Mexico’s Commission of Natural Parks and Wildlife (Comisión Estatal de Parques Naturales y de la Fauna, or CEPANAF) established the local forest ranger positions, employing men from Macheros to patrol the part of the sanctuary that’s in the state of Mexico. (Part of the butterfly reserve also lies in the state of Michoacán.) CEPANAF hired Melquiades several years later and he stayed on, monitoring the butterflies and deterring illegal loggers, for more than three decades.
“When my dad got the job as a forest ranger, it changed our lives,” says Joel Moreno Rojas, the fourth-born of Melquiades’s 10 children. His father’s steady income brought the family out of poverty and afforded the children the chance to go to school. It also instilled a sense of local pride and inspired his family’s commitment to caring for the natural wonder at their doorstep.
Among the Moreno siblings, three have continued their father’s legacy: Joel, Anayeli, and sixth-born Patricio (“Pato”). Pato took over Melquiades’s forest ranger position after his dad’s retirement in 2014. When the monarchs are roosting in Cerro Pelón, roughly from November to March, he spends many days near the overwintering colonies, monitoring them and asking visitors not to disturb the impressive clusters. The butterflies, which have migrated thousands of miles from the eastern part of the United States, are drawn to the oyamel canopy—which provides insulation and keeps out the elements—for their winter rest. “I love it,” says the father of two. “It’s the most marvellous thing that could have happened in my life to have a job like this.”
Being among hundreds of thousands of butterflies sparks such an intense emotional reaction that the Moreno siblings say it is impossible to name. When they do find the words, they describe experiencing the monarchs as powerful, beautiful, and emotional. Joel has seen visitors drop to their knees and pray or break out in tears when they first see the butterflies, who some locals believe are the souls of their ancestors, since the migrating monarchs arrive in Macheros right around the first of November, el Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.
“As Mexicans, we should all be proud of the butterflies,” Pato continues. “I’d like everyone to understand the value of the forest, because it helps us and it helps the butterflies.”
So looking forward to tonight’s opening of the Boston International Kids Film Festival! The show’s opener is the outstanding film, The Biggest Little Farm, and there is a full lineup of over 65 films scheduled from now through Sunday. See the schedule and how to purchase tickets here.
Beauty on the Wing is playing during Block #3 at noon on Saturday, November 21st, followed by a Q and A.
Who doesn’t love The Cranberries “Dreams,” and one of my favorite covers of this beautiful song is by Mandy Lee and MisterWives. I edited a rough cut of Monarch Dreams this afternoon, with clips from Beauty on the Wing and set to “Dreams.” That my film is at last finding an audience is a dream come true for me.
I dream about Monarchs and other creatures nightly and am thinking about ways to make Monarch Dreams more dream-like, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this cut <3
Charlotte had a super fun Halloween last night with our wonderful neighborhood friends–it couldn’t have been more perfect! So many thanks to East Gloucester super Moms Mandy, Gillian, Michelle, Colleen, Nicole, and Dawn for including Charlotte, for all that you do, and especially for your fantastic kids!
I had to dismantle our ofrenda before taking photos, the wind gusts were so strong several offerings broke. I am putting it back this afternoon, after the wind dies down. Día de Muertos continues through November 2nd and will post photos tomorrow.
Esme Sarrouf’s fabulous gum ball machine costume that she made herself!!!
I have so much to be thankful for – my family, friends, work, film projects, and all of you for your generous donations to the documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.
If we’ve spoken recently, then you know that over the past months I have been adding new scenes, from the Monarch migration of 2017, and from our most recent beautiful fall migration of 2018. This past week we screened the film for my two amazing producers Lauren and Susan (they both loved it and provided excellent feedback!). In the coming weeks the film next goes to an audio engineer and to a film “finisher,” with the goal of having a final cut in hand by the end of February. I’ll be sending updates more frequently now that the project is beginning to spread her wings.
My sincerest thanks to you for being part of the wonderful journey of Beauty on the Wing.
Wishing you much love, joy, and beauty in the coming year.
Whether on the wings of a butterfly or the seat of a ferris wheel, the souls of loved ones return to earth to be remembered by their families and friends.
In late October millions of Monarchs begin to arrive to the magnificent oyamel fir and pine tree forests of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, located in the heart of Mexico in the eastern regions of Michoacán. Their return coincides with the annual celebration of Díade los Muertos, the Day of the Dead fiesta. Native peoples and their descendants today believe butterflies are the souls of departed loved ones, returning to Earth to be remembered by their ancestors. An even older tradition connects the Monarchs with the corn harvest, as their return signified that the corn was ripe. In the language of the native Purpécha Indians, the name for the Monarch is “harvester.”Ofrenda de Muertos Gloucester
The above drawing was created by local artist Jeff Cluett. We purchased it from him several years ago. Jeff works at Surfari on Main Street if you’d like to get in touch with him.
Last evening, All Hallow’s Eve, marked the beginning of the three day celebration of Dia de los Muertos. Today, November 1st, is Dia de los Angelitos, the day when deceased children are honored (All Saints Day). Tomorrow, November 2nd, is referred to as Dia de los Muertos or Dia de los Difuntos, the day when deceased adults are honored (All Souls Day). We’ve created an ofrenda on our front porch and neighbors are welcome to place a photo of a loved one who has passed on the altar.
I love the designs of the Papel Picado, especially the Dia de los Muertos skeletons doing everyday things. I found some at Nomad in Cambridge. Deb Colburn, the owner, curates gorgeous folk art for her shop from all around Mexico, and from all around the world. She’s a very sweet person to stop in and visit with, and is also very knowledge about Mexican culture. Nomad is located at 1741 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge.
There is a beautiful ofrenda at the Peabody Museum at Harvard, which is where I learned about the Mexican Purépecha indigenous people’s name for the Monarch butterfly, the “Harvester.” The altar is part of the Museum’s permanent collection and is on display year round.
The Peabody Museum’s exhibition of a Day of the Dead ofrenda or altar is located in the Encounters With the Americas gallery. The exhibit features pieces from the Alice P. Melvin Collection of Mexican Folk Art and represents the Aztec origins of the holiday and the Catholic symbols incorporated into the tradition, from skeletons to plush Jesus figures.
The altar is contained within a box covered with panels that were decorated by local students and regional and international artists. The altars were designed by the Peabody exhibitions staff and Mexican artists Mizael Sanchez and Monica Martinez.
Originating with the Aztecs, the Mexican Day of the Dead is a unique blend of Mesoamerican and Christian rituals. The holiday, which is celebrated on November 1, All Saints’ Day, is usually dedicated to children; November 2, All Souls’ Day, is dedicated to adults.
Traditions vary from region to region, but generally families gather at cemeteries to tend and decorate the graves of their departed loved ones and remember them by telling stories, eating their favorite foods, and dancing in their honor. Many families build altars at home, decorated with flowers and food, especially pan de muerto or “bread of the dead.” A festive and social occasion, the holiday welcomes the return of those who have died and recognizes the human cycle of life and death.
The Peabody’s permanent altar features items from the Alice P. Melvin collection of Mexican folk art. To see these items, click here.
Curated by Davíd Carrasco, Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America and Mexican artist Mizael Sanchez.
To watch a video interview with Mizael Sanchez, click here.
On a recent visit to say hello to ELise and Tucker at Cedar Rock Gardens they were hard at work planting a humongous field of tulips, planned to bloom for next Mother’s Day. Elise generously shared pots of fresh marigolds dug from their fields, not in good enough shape to sell, but perfect for our first ever Day of the Dead altar, Ofrenda de Muertos.
The vibrant colors and fresh citrusy scent of marigolds lure the spirits–marigolds are strewn about and placed around the altar so the souls can find their way. There is a wild version of marigolds that blooms in October and the Spanish name for the flower is flor de muerto, or flower of death.
The altar, or “offering to the dead,” is a sacred Mexican tradition where those who have passed away are honored by the living. The celebration takes place on November 1st and 2nd, on the 1st to honor the souls of children and on the 2nd, to honor adults. I became fascinated with the tradition after learning that Monarchs arrive in Mexico about the same time as Dia de los Muertos is celebrated. In Mexican folklore, butterflies represent the returning souls of departed loved ones. In the native language of the Purépecha, the name for the Monarch is the “harvester” butterfly. The Purépecha are a group of indigenous people centered in the northwestern region of the Mexican state of Michoacán, the very region to where the Monarchs return every year!
There is a beautiful ofrenda at the Peabody Museum, which is where I learned about the “Harvester” butterfly. The altar is part of the Museum’s permanent collection and is on display year round. Here is a link to the exhibit.