One evening at dusk I watched as thousands of Monarch butterflies streamed across Massachusetts Bay and flew into nearby trees for shelter from the chill of a late summer evening. At dawn the following morning I returned to the trees with my camera and waited for several hours for the Monarchs to awaken. Luminous light and wingbeats, blossoms and butterflies—set to the stage of sea and sun and wind—I wanted more than anything to share what I was witnessing.
Experiencing that wonderment during the summer of the extraordinary migration fueled myriad questions. Where did the butterflies come from and why in such great numbers? Would they find nectar to fortify their long journey? Did this happen every year? Why this particular tree over another? How long would they stay? Why were there not more people from my community there to see this magnificent event unfolding in our own backyard?
My passion for creating this film grew from my interest in documenting the beauty of the natural world and the connection between wild creatures and their habitats. Children today are especially at risk of loosing any engagement with the natural world. We are all so wrapped up in our daily lives, with raising children, work, and individual pursuits that we are mostly disconnected from the fact that the habitats all around us are becoming increasingly fragmented and are largely ignored. The neglect is due to no great malice, but is pervasive because of a lack of basic knowledge and understanding of their importance. As informed individuals and, even better, as a community, we can both support existing, and create new, wildlife habitats by protecting and planting wildflowers and discontinuing the use of pesticides and herbicides. “In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” ~ Baba Dioum
I have spent four summers filming the life story of the Monarch Butterfly in backyards and along the shores of Cape Ann. My original intent was to tell the story of the butterflies primarily as it relates to their northern breeding grounds. While editing the film during the winter of 2014, reports of record low numbers of butterflies from the Michoacán sanctuaries shocked the world. I determined that capturing the butterfly’s unfolding story in their winter sleeping grounds as they are awakening in Mexico would only add to the film’s beauty and depth. I traveled with Tom Emmel, Ph.D who is the Director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, which is part of the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History. Doctor Emmel is a butterfly population specialist and an expert in counting monarchs. This was his fortieth trip Angangueo to study the butterflies, having been one of the earliest scientists to reach the mountainsides after they were first discovered in 1975.
My hope for Beauty on the Wing is that we all will gain a deeper understanding of the interconnected world we share with wildflowers and wildlife and, that by understanding the species that are in our midst, gain a greater love and respect for our environment.
The Monarch butterfly is part of the extraordinary South, Central, and North American great migration of birds, butterflies, and wild creatures, always in search of plentiful food on which to rear the next generation. Within this expansive north south corridor there is a world of beauty to discover in the wondrous scheme of survival in migration.
Butterflies have long been a symbol of transformation and their beauty has inspired poets and artists universally across time and cultures. The ephemeral grace of the butterfly not only inspires hope but also gives us courage to be active in the search for solutions. The all-too-fragile link of the butterfly to the health of the environment embodies the urgent need for positive change.
Celebrating our native species is not only a place where we all can meet, it is a focusing lens on what we can become.
Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly will premiere in the spring of 2016.
From the film’s introduction ~
Each year in late summer as the arcing angle of sunlight light descends lower in the sky and the winds shift from the west to the east, the wondrous southward migration of the monarch butterfly takes place in communities throughout North America. By the millions and millions, the intrepid monarchs journey thousands of miles to the beautiful oyamel fir forests located in the heart of Mexico’s volcanic mountains. The most magical thing is that this migration happens in our midst, unfolding in back yards, farms, meadows, fields, and along the shoreline, wherever milkweed and wildflowers grow.
As are most regions along the length of the eastern seaboard, Cape Ann lies within a largely unrestricted north-south corridor for migratory species of birds and butterflies. This means that that birds, butterflies, and other insects travel along the Atlantic flyway without being impeded by either mountain ranges or very large bodies of water to cross, which would slow or prevent their movement.
There is a tremendous sense of urgency in this great movement of life. Whether traveling by land or by sea, wildlife must reach their seasonal destination while life-sustaining food is abundant.