The Western Sky at Sunset

February 1, 2014

Sunset over the Pacific at Santa Cruz

Sunset over the Pacific at Santa Cruz

“The man is blessed who every day is permitted to behold anything so pure and serene as the western sky at sunset, while revolutions vex the world.”
—  Henry David Thoreau, from The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, Vol. 8, December 27, 1851

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The tip of the sun really did look like a little square on the horizon.

The tip of the sun really did look like a little square on the horizon.

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A cluster of over-wintering monarch butterflies, Pacific Grove, California

A cluster of over-wintering monarch butterflies, Pacific Grove, California

The life cycle of the monarch butterfly is fascinating.  It takes four generations for the monarch to migrate hundreds of miles from the Rockies and Midwest to the wintering grounds in California and Mexico.  Several years ago I was fortunate to witness the transformation of a caterpillar into a chrysalis.  (I took pictures of the various stages and wrote about it here.)  And on this California trip, we sought out several over-wintering spots so that we could see the monarchs at the end of their journey.

We stopped at the monarch grove at the Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz in the afternoon.  We saw several clusters of monarchs, which looked very much like dried leaves, and lots of butterflies flitting in the air or warming their open wings on branches of the eucalyptus trees, their winter home.  All of them stayed high in the canopy.

We stopped at the monarch grove in Pacific Grove in the morning, and except for one butterfly, all held their wings tightly closed in the cool air, and none were flying.  Their camouflage is so effective, it would have been very easy to miss seeing them.

It seems a mystery that of all the thousands of eucalyptus trees along the California coast, these butterflies seek out just a few groves to settle in for the winter.

Pacific Grove monarchs

Pacific Grove monarchs

Cluster of monarchs in the eucalyptus grove at Natural Bridges State Park

Cluster of monarchs in the eucalyptus grove at Natural Bridges State Park

Another cluster at Natural Bridges

Another cluster at Natural Bridges

Notice the chewed leaves

Notice the chewed leaves

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