Their transformation from a wrinkled unremarkable caterpillar to a beautiful winged being is one of the most exquisite phenomenon in the natural world. While I was photographing butterflies in the Golden Gate Park, there was a mention in the arboretum that the migrating season of the monarch butterfly was just around the corner. When I started searching the net as to when and where I could have a glimpse of them, I discovered that monarchs west of the Rockies migrate to southern California to the eucalyptus trees of the Pacific Grove and surrounding areas and the Natural Bridges State Park is one of their preferred sites.
Natural Bridges State Park, down the coast in Santa Cruz, which, though abutting the beach, is densely wooded and last week we spent some time exploring it. As we walked into the grove containing eucalyptus trees we were enveloped in a quivering mass of butterflies clinging onto the trees. At first I could not locate them, as they were so well camouflaged among the leaves and the barks of the trees. However I spotted them soon with some effort: bathed in the rays of the golden sun they were glowing like flickering flames.
We trailed them like spies…
I kept wondering as to what I should focus on….the brilliance of their color, the fluidity of their flight or their silent repose. Do they ever have a glimpse of their brilliant wings?!
Every fall, North American monarchs fly south to spend the winter at roosting sites. They are the only butterflies to make such a long, two-way migration, flying up to 3000 miles in the fall to reach their winter destination. Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roosts, often to the exact same trees! Their migration is much like birds or whales. However, unlike birds and whales, individuals only make the trip once. It is their children’s grandchildren that return south the following fall. Moreover unlike songbirds, which often migrate in the dark to elude predators, monarchs are limited to flying out in the open when it is sunny and warm enough for them, and not too windy. Once the ambient temperature drops, they become sluggish, unable to flap their wings.
They are like marathoners tired from their long journey, eager for a patch of bark, or the branch of a tree on which to rest. Coming to think the complexities, skills and requirements of the long journey, it is more like a voyage to the moon!
The annual migration of North America’s monarch butterfly is a truly unique and amazing phenomenon. Scientists have been striving to unravel this mystery. Researchers are still investigating what directional aids monarchs use to find their wintering location. It appears to be a combination of aids such as the magnetic pull of the earth and the position of the sun among others.
The enigmatic, improbable, long-distance, multigenerational movement of monarchs
is a living metaphor for our innate interconnectedness. They are inspirational symbols of strength, perseverance and resilience. If such small creatures can find and follow their purposeful path, so can each of us.
Like monarch butterflies that have mysterious, hidden ways to determine and pursue their migratory routes, we as human beings also have the potential to discover the purpose and direction in our life journey. The monarchs bring us close to ourselves. We do harbor strong innate urges to migrate to our true inner selves.
As a psychiatrist I facilitate this striving (in a small way), among my clients to discover their authentic, inner, resilient butterfly selves and urge them to never give up the quest for a path ahead . . .
There is so much wisdom tucked inside the gossamer wings of the monarchs!
Savor their company at: photos.app.goo.gl/JCtOU7gieASmIiLN2