EACH AUTUMN the visitors come drifting across Monterey Bay, delicate flecks
of orange and
black against the crisp blue sky, wafted along by the southerly air current and the
typically erratic beat of their own wings. Residents of Pacific Grove, California, watch
for them, marveling at the unerring instinct that brings millions of fragile monarch
butterflies to winter at this small seacoast village year after year.
Arrival of the first velvet-winged visitors in early October stirs a bustle of activity as
Pacific Grove school children prepare a regal welcome, the annual Butterfly Parade.
Thousands of residents and visitors will line the curbs October 15 this year to watch
colorfully costumed children march to the blare and oompah-pah of glittering school bands,
celebrating the gloriously unusual gift that nature's whimsical magic brings to this town.
Pacific Grove, dubbed "Butterfly Town U.S.A." by its Chamber of Commerce, is a salty
sea whisper of a town: rustic homes, cottages and sprawling resort motels nestled among
sweet-scented Monterey pines, oaks, eucalyptus and wind-blown cypress at the thumbnail end
of the Monterey Peninsula. Here the quiet waters of Monterey Bay nudge against the endless
rolling swells of the blue Pacific some 125 miles south of San Francisco. No one knows when
the monarchs first began their October to March sojourns here; coastal Indians spoke of
them long before the first white settlers came.
An advance contingent of "scouts" flits into Pacific Grove a month before the main
migration, searching out certain groves of trees, almost always the same ones favored by
the previous year's A visitors. Local folklore has it that monarchs will avoid a tree where
butterflies were disturbed the year before. Natural scientists smile at this and theorize
that monarchs a follow thermal air layers to there town, then locate favored resting trees
by an ultra sensitive sense of smell that zeroes in on residual odors left by the prior
When the main army of monarchs invades this coastal town, trees and shrubs
in butterflies. Clustering thickly on branches and leaves, piling atop one another, resting
monarchs respond to the touch of morning sun by spreading brilliant orange and A black
inner wings, a breathtaking show of kaleidoscopic colors. On cool or rainy days the outer
wings shut tight, assuming the brownish hues of dead leaves.
Pacific Grove officially protects its gentle visitors under a not so gentle
that imposes a $500 fine on anyone caught molesting them - an overt expresic sign of loving
regard for the butterflies as well as a tacit recognition of their value in bringing
Not surprisingly, the monarch motif pops up frequently in downtown shops and
Colorful cardboard monarchs spread their wings over window merchandise displays. Besides
the expected picture postcards, slides and posters there are monarch-decorated drinking
glasses, coasters, ash trays, place mats, pillows and other ephemera. Local buses label
themselves "Mini-Monarch" or "Maxi Monarch," depending on size, sprouting enormous painted
monarch wings along their gleaming white side panels. Oblivious of the various artistic
and commercial renderings of their fair anatomies, monarchs flit and glide about town,
pausing to sip nectar from flowering shrubs, blossoming window boxes and fall flower
One of the best known groves of "butterfly trees" in town is on the grounds of Milar
Butterfly Grove Motel near the end of Lighthouse Avenue, the town's main street. Ghostly
wisps of gray-green Spanish moss beard high pine branches, providing choice gathering sites
for monarchs. By November masses of monarchs cover the trees in living orange and black
The gift shop in the motel office is a collector's paradise of framed butterfly specimens.
Finally it is the day of the big Butterfly Parade. Cross streets blocked by wooden
barricades are manned directing out-of-towners to nearby parking. Families stream from
cars, little ones in tow, heading toward the smattering of early arrivals who have already
staked out curbside claims.
Several blocks away all is tumult at Robert Down School where 1,200 costumed paraders are
gathering. A frantic mother searches for her preschooler, finds him asking a band member if
he can toot his tuba. Teachers line up stragglers in their places, glancing about anxiously
for the missing ones. A car pulls up, dropping off a small girl who shrieks as the car door
slams on her butterfly wing. The door opens, the wing is straightened and all is well
again. A clarinet ripples up and down a scale.
High school band members, sharp in brand new scarlet uniforms and white hats, feign
boredom, as if the parade is a bit young for them.
Down on the comer of Lighthouse and Fountain, spectators peer up the hill expectantly,
front liners checking their cameras. It is a sparkling crisp blue-skied day, the kind
parade planners pray for.
"Here they come!" a sharp eyed, white haired grandfather yells as he points up Fountain
Avenue hill. The faraway muffled rum-te-dum of the bass drum and a few faint rah-tara-las
from the trombones drift down on a wisp of breeze. Fathers hoist toddlers to their
shoulders as the music grows louder.
"Why does the band keep stopping?" a visitor asks.
"The preschoolers are right behind them," a local explains. "The tots determine the pace of
the whole shebang." It doesn't matter. The slow approach whets the appetite for greater
The junior high band in front executes its turn with casual aplomb, horns and buttons
gleaming, tootling and drumming a smile onto the face of the crowd. "Randolph's out of step
again," a mother whispers. The band passes grandly, followed by the youngest kids in the
parade, wide eyed nursery schoolers who seem to think the whole thing is organized so they
can stare at the spectators.
"There's Suzy!" yells a small boy with a big voice. Looking more like the littlest angel
than a butterfly, Suzy pops a finger into her mouth and turns her head, embarrassed.
Mothers skirt the edge of the street anxiously, the "safety pin brigade" as one teacher
calls them. If a wing sags or a costume threatens to disintegrate, one of the mothers will
dash into the parade and make instant repairs. Butterfly wings are legion and some kids
sprout pipe-cleaner antennae from headbands.
Surprises are inevitable since classes decide on their own costume theme each year. Green
clad, tinsel trimmed youngsters pretend to be Martians visiting the monarchs.
Coonskin-capped pioneers and their bonneted, long-skirted "womenfolk" march west to
"discover" the monarchs while a tribe of diminutive Indians in feathers and painted faces
protests "WE FOUND THEM FIRST" on a large banner. The crowd laughs and applauds.
In an hour the parade is over. Visitors begin to stream back to their cars, or join
townspeople heading for the PTA Bazaar where games, contests, food, drink and white
elephant sales will prolong the fun a few more hours.
Overhead monarchs glide and flutter in the sun. Next year their progeny will most certainly
return to Pacific Grove while scientists continue to puzzle over exactly how they do it.
Perhaps the secret isn't so mysterious. After all, who would want to miss the marvelous