By Heather Cockey, WWF Director of Institutional Budgeting and Financial Management 

Picture it: Sicily, 1922…no that’s not right. Mexico, 2023. Actually, that’s still not where our story really begins. Washington DC, still 2023. I got a call from the WWF Travel team that the opportunity I’ve been waiting more than five years for has finally arrived—the chance to join our donors on a trip led by Natural Habitat Adventures to visit some of the wildlife and communities that WWF supports. 

Heather (WWF staff) with scenery in Mexico

© Maria Sceva / Nat Hab

The Opportunity of a Lifetime

You may be wondering, “Why is that so momentous? You work for WWF, why did it take five years for them to send you out into the world? Are they embarrassed by you? Do you bring them shame?” And the answer to that is, “Well maybe a little after they read this blog post, but actually no.” I’m the Director of Finance in the WWF-US office, which means my job is centered around operations, not our programmatic work. While I have the honor of working with some of the greatest minds in the industry in our DC office, I don’t often get the opportunity to see WWF’s programmatic work in action, so this was truly a privilege. 

Okay, back to it. We’re now ready to jump 2,000 miles south (or 3,200 kilometers for our metric friends), where I will join a dozen donors and a sprinkling of Nat Hab crew on a five-day trip into the picturesque mountains and colorful towns of central Mexico to witness the mesmerizing migration of millions of majestic monarchs. (There’s no such thing as too much alliteration, kids.)

Mexico Monarch group photo with scenery

© Daniel Hagaman

The evening before our adventure begins, we have an introductory welcome dinner to go over the trip itinerary and power through the initial getting-to-know-you awkwardness. Everyone is in great spirits, excited for what’s to come, sharing personal stories and telling jokes. It was evident from the start that this was a group of amazing and passionate people, and it was effortless to connect with them. 

A Quick Confession

But there was one expectation I had for the trip that I did not share with them or anyone. But I will share it now, as horrible as it will probably sound. 

I expected to get bored quickly. 

I know! Okay, but wait, let me explain. This was not reflective at all of my feelings about monarchs, the trip itinerary, my co-travelers, the guides, Nat Hab or WWF. This was purely a self-awareness that I have ADHD. My personal and professional life is fast-paced, and my attention span lasts about 7.5 seconds (or 7.5 seconds for our metric friends), which means I absorb and process things quickly and then move on to the next…whatever. So yes, I was concerned that by day two—or maybe even hour two—my brain would start whispering, “Okay, we see the butterflies, it’s absolutely amazing! What now…?” 

Heather (WWF staff) with horse in Mexico

© Daniel Hagaman

Luckily, my concerns were completely unfounded. There are no words to accurately portray how purely magical it is to stand silent and still in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world while literally millions of butterflies flutter all around you. It was like a living fairy tale, narrated by two of the most knowledgeable and hilarious Nat Hab guides. I could have stayed there for hours, day after day. 

Marveling at Monarchs (and Their Protectors)

But in truth, it wasn’t the monarchs that inspired me the most; it was the incredible WWF donors. Their dedication to supporting the monarch butterfly population back home was remarkable. Their stories revealed how conservation had profoundly influenced how they experience the world. It was evident that these donors were not merely contributing to a cause; they embodied a genuine connection to nature that transcended borders and seeped into every aspect of their lives. Their enthusiasm and commitment reminded me that there is power in the small, everyday actions we take to keep the world beautiful and diverse. 

In today’s economic climate, the pressure is on to take immediate and drastic action to stem—and hopefully even reverse—the damage caused by climate change. And when you work in the conservation industry, it’s easy to become too focused on what more we can do and what new people we can engage to reach this goal. When that happens, we start to see inspiration as a product that we are responsible for creating and distributing to our donors, rather than what it really is: an (eco-friendly) fuel generated by the symbiotic relationship we have with our donors. 

So that is where I was, a mere mortal running empty of inspiration after working every day toward what often feels like an impossible task of saving the planet, hoping to discover a muse among the monarchs. Instead, I found a dozen muses disguised as humble gardeners planting milkweed across middle America. And they each had their own inspirational story. 

There was the teacher who absorbed everything she could about monarchs to take back and inspire the next generation of students. And the parents who had sadly lost their son, but who traveled with his stuffed monkey to experience all the beautiful things in the world in his place. There was the woman who had undergone surgery and had limited mobility but still found a way to hike through the mountains to witness the monarch’s magic. Whatever their individual story, they were all dreamers, believers and guardians of our planet’s future. 

Mexico Monarch group at dinner smiling

© Daniel Hagaman

In the end, there was so much more for my ADHD brain to experience than simply being among the monarchs. It was a chance to be among heroes and to glean from them a renewed hope that the battle to protect our planet is not yet lost. These people wake up every day and fall in love with nature all over again. I was lucky enough to witness that love firsthand, and it still gives me butterflies.