The first Monarch butterfly of the season visits the asclepias in our front yard. Asclepias, commonly called milkweed, is a native Missouri flower. It is wonderfully invasive, a brassy orange upstart that likes to seed itself between all the most delicate and restrained pastel blossoms. This tough and hardy plant is precious to the Monarch butterflies that make their way through Missouri on their very long migration south to central Mexico. The monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to Mexico. Those west of the Rockies gather along the California coast about midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
We spent our honeymoon in an idyllic little coastal town in that area of California, and it was in December during the holidays. We had heard of the monarchs clustering by the thousands in their migratory destination, but we had not seen them. On Christmas morning we awoke to a beautiful clear and sunny day. About mid-morning Monarchs started fluttering over the house we had rented in the hills. More and more monarchs moved through the air, alighting on the flowers blooming in the mild California climate. We set out to find their source and discovered that thousands were gathering in the trees on the steep hillside above our rental house. We spent several days watching them gather. There were so many that the green of the trees was obscured and the branches seemed to be decorated with very unusual and delicate wafer-like ornaments. Each day as the sun rose in the east and its rays finally topped the hill, the light would warm the butterlies and bring them back from their shaded slumber. As the sun bathed the trees, the branches seemed to come alive with the movement of tens of thousands of tiny wings. When sufficiently warmed and energized, the monarchs let loose of the branches and fluttered down the hill and over the home we were staying in. There were so many butterflies that it took several hours each day for these little natural solar energy collectors to leave the grove of trees that sheltered them. They would begin returning to the same trees at about three in the afternoon, and that return would also last several hours. What a magical honeymoon this was, as if a chapter in a novel rich with Latin American magical realism.