"I've watched you now for a half-hour; Self poised upon that yellow flower, and little butterfly... Indeed I know not if you sleep or feed. How motionless! Not frozen seas. More motionless! And then what joy awaits you, when the breeze hath found you out among the trees, and calls you forth again!"
-William Wordsworth, "To A Butterfly"
Imagine, a perfect autumn day, spent driving along the 17 mile drive, which winds along the central California coastline. That autumn sun, so golden, the air rich with the scent of the last wildflowers of the year, and the sound of sea birds, making a joyful noise. That was my day Friday. It was an almost perfect day, as days go. Life was everywhere and nothing was being taken for granted. I saw beauty in the light, and the colors of a typical autumn day.
As if all that beauty somehow wasn't enough, I was given a late afternoon gift. We arrived in Pacific Grove at about 11:00 am, and immediately drove to the Monarch butterfly Sanctuary. I wanted to try to photograph the butterflies in the earliest light possible. The temperature was quite warm, which meant the butterflies were at their most active. If you sat down on one of the benches, and trained your eyes toward the blue sky, you would see 20 or so, large monarchs dancing across the sky. They were easy to spot, because the mid-morning sun was casting off their crimson wings, making them appear among the eucalyptus leaves, as red hot embers.
It was difficult to get good photos, so we decided to comeback later in the day, when it would be cooler and they would be more likely to be huddled together for warmth. We arrived back at the sanctuary at about 4:00 PM, to find that the butterflies were indeed now huddled in clusters, high in the trees. I set my camera toward one particular cluster of dead leaves, hanging low from a lower bough. As I snapped away, I caught sight of more clusters of Monarchs nearby.
Suddenly, I heard Alan exclaim, "Oh my!" As I took my eyes off the grouping I had been photographing, I looked upward to see what was later estimated to be, 10,000 monarch butterflies, which had decided to take flight all at once! And fly they did, dancing above my head, silently, but their beauty was stunning all the same. I was caught so off-guard by what I had seen, that I stopped looking for that perfect photo, and just allowed myself to make a memory instead.
Imagine, 10,000 monarch butterflies, flying above your head, and making your mind swirl, as you try to follow them in all directions. It was magic! I am so glad I didn't capture that perfect photo, because I may have missed the memory of the butterfly ballet, that a perfect October day gave me.
"There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in it's sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been!"
-Percy Bysshe Shelley
Pacific Grove Butterfly Sanctuary
Pacific Grove, California
October 20, 2006
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