Thursday, March 1, 2012

On the Path of the Monarch

See my slideshow. Clicking on photos will show the captions. Enjoy!

Still catching my breath from the writers conference, Gary and I packed up our suitcase two days later, and headed to Michoacan with the local Audabon group to visit the Monarchs, literally, butterflies without borders. These beautiful mariposas make their annual migration, traveling up to 3,000 miles to and from Northeastern Canada to the same over-wintering sight in the central Mexican highlands.  This phenomenon, which includes three to four generations in one year intrigues scientists and laymen alike, who have not been able to unravel the mystery of how they do it or know to do it, always coming back to the same places. Today, like so many other species, these magnificent butterflies, with little nectar from the milkweed flowers they depend on due to industrial agriculture,  and compromised sources of water, are being greatly challenged.  More and more of their winter habitat is being destroyed by illegal logging in Rosario Reserve of Michoacan.  It’s a complex issue as the poor people living there need to sell the wood for their livelihood. Of course, climate change is also profoundly affecting the butterflies. We have included many photos and hope you all have a chance to see the Monarchs someday, before they are gone from these once even more densely butterfly populated sights in Mexico.

The Writing Life in San Miguel

See my slideshow.  If you click on the individual photos you will get the captions.

Well, February sure flew by like a cat on fire---poor metaphor, but best for now.  Paradoxically, I did a lot of writing but not on my blog.  Now, I’m going to try to catch you up to date on my adventures in San Miguel de Allende.

The month began with my spending much of my time preparing for the 7th Annual International San Miguel Writers Conference.  In between long hours of working on my novel, finishing the last three chapters and brushing up the first part, I was attending some great presentations such as two on writers who would be keynoting the conference, such as Margaret Atwood from Canada, Joy Harjo, native American poet and songwriter/musician.  Also, on the program was Elena Poniatowska, one of Mexico's foremost journalists, writers and good will ambassadors now in her late eighties.  I attended a play with characters straight from her books, all in Spanish.  There was also a book group discussion on Margaret Atwood’s most recent dystopic, speculative fiction, The Year of the Flood.  It was a great opportunity to delve into Atwood's ideas, which are dense with metaphor and meaning while describing a not too positive future for mankind and Earth. Fortunately the heavy nature of the topic is accented by her clever wit and puns.

While I was doing this, Gary was enjoying making new friends here, taking long walks with his camera, the results you will see in some of the photos documenting the wonders of San Miguel.  He also did some sweet miniature bird carvings, enjoying the sun on our terrace and a chance to chip and carve away at the soft Mexican wood he found.  We attended some films and talks together, mostly political in nature, presented by the excellent Center for Global Justice. A day in the "compo," visiting CEDESA, a small community demonstrating many projects on sustainable living, was a good counterpoint to our days in our colonial city with its hustle and bustle.  CEDESA is a project started by a Catholic priest from Spain nearly fifty years ago when he was sent here by the Church. He quickly realized the poor peasants needed more than religion. Teaching them to read and write, he also helped them do sustainable agriculture, way before we all used that term, to feed their families. Now it is a demonstration community being used to help other composinos improve their production of food, save water (a precious resource here in the drought ridden central highlands), distill water through a hand-built solar system.  As the local aquifer is lowering more and more every year, and getting closer to the bottom, they are discovering high levels of arsenic and fluoride, which have severe deleterious health effects.  They have developed a very clever, low-cost, solar driven, distillation system which is helping to alleviate the heavy metals from their water. Newly developed wood burning stoves which conserve wood necessary to prepare their tortillas and other foods are also helping lower the rate of lung cancer in women and children while also saving the forests.  The community prepared a delicious organic lunch for us and we enjoyed the educational benefits of the day immensely.  It reminds us of our small communities in El Salvador that we support.  I will be giving a presentation on Eco-Viva’s work there, on March 21st, an event being sponsored by Global Justice. More writing assignments, preparing the advertising and the presentation, which brings me back to my writing life.

A week before the conference, I met a former acquaintance who’s also a fine writer. She told me about the writing group, which had just met once, and encouraged me to participate.  We had a wonderful mentor, a former writing instructor from the New School in New York and author of five books, fiction and non-fiction. I decided to join and enjoyed the camaraderie of four other writers and the fine suggestions of our mentor. I finally finished my last chapters of the novel and the final rewrites and polishing are in process, taking into account all that I learned in the conference’s intense workshops.  Needless to say, the conference was fabulous with entertaining as well as stimulating activities to attend from morning ‘till night.  Highlights were the keynote addresses, a wonderful one woman play, “That Dorothy Parker,” written and performed by award winning Carol Lampert, and the fun Mexican Fiesta held the third night of the conference. It was fun to meet so many talented writers from all parts of North and South America amongst the 218 participants.  The San Miguel community was invited to many of the special events which filled the big Hotel Real de Minas’ ballroom which accommodated around 850 people.  It was called “The Creative Crossroads of the Americas” and one could quickly ascertain why: it was truly a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic event.  One woman,a Huichole Indian. wore her lovely traditional attire every day and was a colorful attendee we couldn’t miss. Lastly, our conference was bookended by two fabulous presentations: one, by Sharon Robinson, the writer and daughter of the famous baseball star, first to integrate baseball back in the late forties, the late Jackie Robinson.  The other special guest speaker was Naomi Wolf noted political activist, writer and filmmaker. She premiered her documentary film, “The End of America,” and gave a follow-up lecture called “Protest 101.”  Are you out of breath yet?  Well, I was and am still recuperating from this provocative and fabulous conference. 
Life continues to be a fascinating journey in San Miguel de Allende!