BBC News last night showed a brief clip speculating on the negative effects we humans might have this year on the North American monarch butterfly population. As part of the story, the reporter detailed the amazing migration of these butterflies, which come from as far as Canada to the same small forest in Michoacan, Mexico in late fall every year. This year, and in previous five year intervals, the butterflies have done so in incredible numbers despite the best efforts of humans to systematically destroy their habitat.
What's spectacular about the monarchs' annual return to the Michoacan forest is that their life cycle, on average, is two months. This means that the butterflies leading the migration home are operating on built-in instinct rather than familiarity with their destination. Though scientists know a lot about the migration patterns, the real questions of why they migrate and how they know where they are going remains a mystery. The forest where they return every year is technically no more home to them than any of the thousands of miles in between their starting and final resting points.
I've spent more than 15 years tracking the monarchs from afar, and one year from close-by on a visit to the forest. I'd like to chalk up this longstanding fascination with their migration to the nerdy scientist in me, but in many ways, I think of it as being as close to a spiritual journey as I'll ever believe to have witnessed. The migration is my annual indulgence to question the power of destiny and fate as it battles out logic and fact. What better way to start the new year, really?