Thirty-three years ago
when I moved to Pacific Grove, officially dubbed “Butterfly Town
U.S.A.”, I was flabbergasted by my first foray into monarch
land. At that time it was Washington Park, a lovely tree-swathed
park that extends over several blocks in a wooded area,
surrounded by an artist’s enclave of charming wooden cottages.
It moved me to write this poem, first published in The Monterey
The orange and
black of Halloween
Is something that I’ve often seen.
As still as
pumpkins – oak leaves for stems
Adrift on high – bewitching gems.
An apparition –
Glowing in the eyes of fall.
The number of monarchs
there was staggering; hundreds of thousands fluttered up in
clouds whenever a limb on a Monterey pine was disturbed. A
carpet of others, intoxicated during their mating ritual,
flapped on the ground. Signs had to be posted “Watch your Step!”
so you wouldn’t crush them.
Boughs of bushy pines sagged with the weight of what looked like
plain clusters of brown leaves. But on a sunny day, when these
artful beauties spread their glorious wings, it was a dizzying
sight. Some of us brought blankets to lie on while we watched
the show unfold overhead. We were drunk ourselves with the sight
of these tangerine gems fluttering en masse in a sapphire sky.
Somewhere along the way, as happens with all good things, the
Some say it was pine pitch canker that took down their habitat
which wasn’t replaced with new trees over time.
Whatever the cause, the next best place to watch them, but in
considerably smaller numbers, was at the Butterfly Grove Inn,
next to which is a grove of eucalyptus trees also alluring to
Eventually the grove became the Monarch Grove Sanctuary, and it
now draws tourists from around the world, year after year . . .
Today, I was really working on a case of winter blues and
exhaustion from so much marketing, computer glitches and stress.
I knew I needed a nature break.
So, at the tail end of my one-hour bike ride, I pulled into the
grove and there was volunteer docent, Ro Vaccaro, official
butterfly lady of P.G., who helped found Friends of the
I remembered our first meeting: an interview I did at her little
P.G. cottage. There she takes international calls around the
clock to disseminate information about monarchs.
She said, “The mystery of the metamorphosis gives hope to us
ugly caterpillars. We may be at the top of the food chain but
we’re not the most evolved creatures on earth. These butterflies
can leave a message in their great grandchildren’s brain to
navigate. They can change their clothes and fly away and, of
course, they don’t kill each other. Their only predators are man
and progress, with a dirty capital P: squeezing out the milkweed
fields, demolishing the eucalyptus trees.”
Her quest for butterflies began with the sadness of divorce. She
started collecting butterfly pins because, “They were a symbol
of renewal and hope and rebirth. I decided to wear a butterfly
every day and it would perk me up.”
I could see how she earned her title. Every nook and cranny was
crowded with butterfly memorabilia: pot holders, jewelry,
pillows, figurines, coffee mugs, etc. . . .
Well, there stood the vivacious woman, who has fought her way
back from poor health too many times to mention. “It’s the
butterflies,” she says. “I have a spiritual connection.”
She was, naturally, bedecked in monarch motif from her socks to
“I feel down today, Ro,” I said.
“Well, you came to the right place,” she said, wide-eyed and
beaming as always. “Just take a peek through the binoculars.
I’ve got it trained on a cluster of them.”
I peered through high-powered binoculars to see the butterflies
close up and personal. Then I stepped away and tilted my head to
watch the awesome array of bits of orange crepe paper, adrift in
the crystalline sky.
After floating with them for awhile, I felt restored to sanity.
On the way out, I watched her line up half-a-dozen awe-struck
children and tell them about the life of the insect.
They were enraptured – their eyes glassy with wonder. And that’s
just the way I left the grove myself . . .
P.S. You may call Ro at (800) 888-PGMonarch