I first met Homero Aridjis, The Butterfly Man in 1993 when he visited Vancouver. Since then we have become friends. In some of my own visits to Mexico City I am always invited for lunch at his home by his wife Betty Ferber.
It is difficult to pin down the Contepec, Michoacán-born man as he is a complex mixture of diplomat, environmentalist, journalist and poet/novelist. The latter combination is deadly. To read the prose of a poet be it Jorge Luís Borges or The Butterfly Man, leads you to re-reading soaring passages over and over. Many of his novels have been translated into English and the bulk of his poetry here in British Columbia by George McWhirter.
It was in his Mexico City home in Lomas de Chapultepec that The Butterfly Man told me the story of his philosopher friend Ramón Xirau calling him to tell him that when he left his house he could not breathe. Xirau and The Butterfly Man organized the Grupo de Los Cien which pioneered the idea of limiting the circulation of automobiles in Mexico City to license plates that alternated between odd and even. Soon the organization was pushing for the protection not only of the atmospheric environment of one of the largest and most polluted cities of the world but to also saving endangered animal species including whales and turtles.
But dear to The Butterfly Man were the Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus) that wintered near his home town on the Mexican Oyamel fir trees (Abies religiosa).
When I first met The Butterfly Man my garden butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) was completely covered by Monarchs in August. By the beginning of the 21st century there were the odd three of four. At the the time (when I first met The Butterly Man) there was a great ignorance on where Ontario butterflies wintered. Strangely The Butterfly Man told me that they did not know where the wintering Monarchs came from. Once this communication disconnect was fixed new efforts were made, guided and led by The Butterfly Man who personally visited Mexican presidents and urged them to set aside Oyamel forests in Michoacán as places that could not be logged.
Of his efforts The Butterfly Man has written many a lovely poem of the dazzling sight of millions of butterflies arriving at his home town of Contepec to winter and how the Oyamel’s vibrated as if injected by LSD.
But it seems that it has been to no avail and The Butterlfly Man has again warned us all via the Huffington Post.