Then it dawned on me, that if I want it some way, I have to make it that way…
The morning of December 29, 2015. My 36th birthday. I woke up before the sun and got dressed in the dark. I lit a candle in my kitchen and set a pot of water to boil for coffee. After throwing a cinnamon stick in for good measure, I found my bag of cedar and blessed myself with the candle flame. Real pacific northwest cedar that my brother sent down to me, intrinsically potent and holy. The cedar smoke hung in the air, mingling with the aroma of cinnamon coming from the stove and I knew that this was going to be a good day.
Wearing wool hats and sweaters against the early morning chill, we all piled into the pickup and started up the dirt road as the sky was turning pink. It was just past seven am. There was an unusual excitement in the air as we drove up unfamiliar, winding roads towards the mountains. The new morning sun was shining bright, electrifying the lush greens in the forest. Everything felt fresh and alive, glowing with raw life force.
We made it to a sleepy village around 8 am. We drove around with the heater cranked up for a bit, stopping to ask old women carrying buckets of maiz and men with machetes where we could find Emilio. When we finally arrived at his home, he looked surprised to see us. It was early. They spoke for a while, then he grabbed a sweater and climbed into the truck. We were finally on our way.
After driving for about ten minutes, we began seeing signs for the butterfly reserve and passed through two small villages. We kept going until we passed the outskirts of the town and I began to wonder where Emilio was taking us. We finally made a sharp left onto an unmarked road. This road turned and twisted and had many forks, to which we always stayed to the right. Eventually we began the steep, snaking ascent through the deep forest where the road deteriorated considerably. Dangerously close vertical cliff sides with no guard rails, deep ruts and big rocks. We got stuck several times and the kids and I got out while the guys maneuvered the truck out. At last the road became too much for the little truck so we abandoned it and started walking.
Though the sun was shining, the air in this mountain forest was so cold that you could see your breath. We walked steadily uphill for some time, through a bed of pine needles covering the unmaintained road until it finally opened up on to an immense grassy field. Still chilly, we quickly crossed the sweeping expanse and were back in the sheltering forest. Here the incline increased significantly. The path narrowed until it became a barely visible trough of rocks and roots. Each step was like climbing a staircase, skipping every other step. This trail did not offer one single flat place to catch your breath. You had to lean against a rock and grab a root if you wanted to rest a moment, or risk sliding down the mountain side. I carried the baby on my back less than half way before my legs started to give out. I gave her to V, but even without her extra weight, I could still barely keep up. The kids were whining but keeping pace with our guide. I, on the other hand, was lagging behind significantly and could not rest long enough for my heart to stop pounding out of my chest.
This went on for some time. I felt like my lungs could not expand enough to take a full breath in the thin mountain air. I was compressed. No butterflies and no end in sight, I began wondering why I had chosen this crazy destination for my birthday. I believe that your birthday sets the tone for your next trip around the sun, and I wondered why I was making it so damn difficult for myself. I felt heavy, like I was made of cement. And still I pressed on, one foot in front of the other, breathlessly climbing up into the clouds. We stopped in a sunny clearing and I took a long drink of the agua de limon that I had prepared in the morning for this trip. As I sat there on the rocks, two very important insights occurred to me. The first, that I should never try to keep pace with anyone else. I need to honor my own rhythms and set my own pace always; especially when the person I am trying to keep pace with is well versed and it is all new to me. This has been my main, ongoing struggle since arriving here in Mexico and has caused a lot of suffering and heart ache. The second insight, that I need to drink plenty of water and rest often. Something so basic that I am often too busy to allow time and space for. These things will be important for me to remember in the coming year. Emilio stood up and said that we were very close now. Though I did not believe him, I started walking again.
As soon as I started moving I felt my complete exhaustion. Heart pounding, my legs began to shake with each slow step. I could hear the little kids whining loudly up ahead of me and it all became unbearable. Why this? THIS is what I chose??!! I had dramatically underestimated how strenuous this path would be and started supremely regretting my decision. I reluctantly forced myself to continue, slowly made my way up and around a large boulder and then… Deep silence. I looked up and realized that I was standing in a butterfly cloud. I could feel their wings creating a soft wind. The kids were standing there staring at the sky. Even the baby was quiet. Everything stopped. My entire being shifted to take in these wild creatures. Their delicate, shimmering energy charged the whole area and we were all mesmerized. Nobody moved for a long time, then our guide told us to follow him deeper into the forest. What was waiting there was like nothing I have ever experienced.
I walked watching the sky instead of my feet. I felt so surreal, like wandering around in a lucid dream. Moments later we were perched precariously on the side of a cliff, eye level with tree tops that were vibrating orange and appeared to be visibly breathing. The stillness felt like the precious hours following the birth of a baby, or being fully present with a death; the ever so gentle lifting of the veil. The birds were singing softly and everything was shivering. The only other sound was an almost inaudible wind that undoubtedly rearranged every molecule that entered this sacred space; the butterfly’s secret sound wave frequency. It took me a while to realize exactly what I was seeing. Entire trees covered in butterflies. There were thousands in the air, the ground was covered and so were the branches. I was in the presence of a rare and alluring potency. Extraordinary and almost incomprehensible. We had distinctly and profoundly stepped out of our world and into theirs. The realm of the butterflies.
We sat there on the forest floor amongst dry pine needles and butterfly wings. We ate fruit and watched in amazement for some time before the chill in the air became too much. I could have sat there all day, but the kids were ready to head home. I tied the baby on my back and stood there for a few moments, consciously allowing this energy to deeply imprint, before turning to begin the long trek down.
The baby fell asleep on my back almost instantly once we began the descent. I kept a deliberately slow pace this time, wanting to be sure of my footing on the steep, slippery path. I had a lot of time to think as I meandered down the mountain. With my head full of butterfly magic, I thought about how this journey mirrored the last year of my life. Like my decision to move to Mexico, had I known in advance what a difficult, uphill climb this day would bring, I probably would have bagged it before even starting. And like so many other decisions I have made in my life, especially those which asked me to defy logic and simply trust an elusive, intangible, internal awareness… The rockiest roads and the hardest lessons always bring the biggest rewards. By far.
It’s so easy to get stuck and forget that I chose this. Unlike many women who find themselves living in Mexico, I did not follow my deported husband here. He followed me. The difficulties have been extreme and I often find myself wallowing in victim consciousness. I stepped into my full power and potential when I made it to the top of that mountain. I dropped the illusion of blame and resentment and claimed ownership of everything that I have created and everything that is still a seed. That moment, standing on a mountain top high above the clouds in a cloud of butterflies, gave me strength that I will draw from for my entire life. It was one of those rare, peak experiences that stay with you forever. I will always remember stepping inside the magical world of the butterflies.
I stopped to harvest some wild nettles before stepping into the giant field that was now lit up and shimmering. We sat there in the warm sun while the kids ran through the grass, carefree, trying to catch butterflies in their little hands. The air was thick with them. I could not stop smiling as they flew around me, and I suddenly felt lighter and freer than I have felt in years. All the heaviness was just gone. These angelic creatures lifted me up on their wings and flew me into sacred grace where I was embraced by everything holy. As I watched my glowing children dance with the butterflies I saw so clearly what it all is. My birth was being blessed by thousands of tiny winged fans and I felt myself set free. I am truly wild.
We started back to the truck where the kids promptly fell asleep despite the very bumpy ride. I felt deep peace and contentment as I watched the forest out the window that so resembled my northwest coast home. We stopped in a small village below the mountain where I bought some pretty hand painted clay bowls and cold drinks. We drove Emilio home and stopped at abuela’s house for steak tacos. My last birthday treat was waiting for me when we finally arrived home just before dark… Homemade fresh fruit tarts with walnut crusts and cream. We ate them up and went straight to bed. It had been a very long and amazing day!
Technical stats: Our brick house sits at about 6,800 feet above sea level. Where we sat in the butterfly cloud was well over 10,000 feet above sea level. We hiked about 6 miles round trip, gaining about 1,000 feet in elevation per mile on the ascent. We did not encounter another human anywhere on the trail.