The Monarch Grove, Natural Bridges, San Diego.
Leaving Berkeley on Tuesday we caught lunch at a great little Taqueria – Casa Latina on San Pablo Ave. Seems to me they’re all great once you get deep into California. This one was outfitted with a table for Day of the Dead remembrances: candles, bread loaves, and sugar skulls with names of the deceased spelled out in purple sequins. Dorothy asked if there was an ‘Otis’ on the table, but there wasn’t. We did later see his name on a street sign as we pulled into Santa Cruz. And that’s where we found one of the largest Monarch groves on the coast.
If you grew up in Santa Cruz, maybe the thousands of overwintering monarchs wouldn’t seem so impressive. The Cases, however, were impressed. Monarchs come to Santa Cruz every October and stay over til spring. They’re generation 4, the special ones, built stronger and with greater life spans than generations 1 to 3 combined. This is all so they can travel from far northern territories to this tiny part of the earth they’ve never seen before. Here they will survive the winter, reach their postponed sexual maturity in spring, them push north again to bring on the next generation of migrants.
No parent ever communicates with the monarchs or guides them in their mission, at least in any way humans understand. We don’t know how their navigational intelligence works, but we believe it includes knowledge of the stars, the sun, and the earth’s magnetic fields. Whether genetic or mystic, there’s a driving command in the monarchs that endures beyond their lifetimes. Maybe that’s why native peoples see in them the spirits of their departed. Monarchs bear not only a consciousness that overcomes death, but an unmatched grace and boldness even in their frailty. In spite of my family knowing the butterflies’ link to the Day of the Dead, our arrival on that very date to their winter home at Natural Bridges was pure serendipity. We’ve made no reservations on this trip, planned few plans, and really just let the wind blow us south. We felt that something greater than us had worked to time our arrival. Inside the monarchs’ eucalyptus grove Sarah and I could only stare up in silence and watch them. She shed tears for Otis. I held her and thanked God for another moment of awe – never sufficient, but a little healing.
After lingering in the grove and absorbing what we could, we traveled outside of town a few miles to camp on some distant relatives’ rural property. Our host, Luke, whom I’d only met earlier this year at San Diego Comic Con, told us that my brother Quentyn had camped in our spot years ago. Like Otis, we lost Quent too soon a little over four years ago. He was 42. Before bed we lit a candle for Otis and Quent and thought of what it might be like if they were sharing some time together. I think they’d be well matched. Both handsome brown-eyed men, both lovers of machines. Otis might teach Quent to just embrace his sensitivity already, and Quent could teach Otis how to write – something he did well but never showed me during his life.
The truth is that even though I believe in God, I’m less and less sure about life beyond death. I don’t know anything about it and I don’t trust anyone who claims certainty. I do know, though, that there’s mystery beyond mystery, and reason behind what seems impossible. Monarchs navigate to places they’ve never seen or heard about with confounding confidence. If they can do it, I suppose I can keep my little faith for now, and hope that more will be revealed in time.