Recently my parents, Boyfriend and I drove 321 miles north to a small town, happy and rare on the mid-Califoirnia coastline. A Methodist camp in the 1870's, it was devout, literary and meditative. Robert Louis Stevenson breathed in the fragrant spices of the cypress trees; he heard the water forming highways around the rocks and said, "I have never been in any place so dreamlike. Indeed, it was not so much like a deserted town as like a scene upon the stage by daylight and with no one on the boards."
This little trinket is called Pacific Grove. I've never visited a place so perfectly made to give happiness. It is a gentle escape, and its residents are well aware of their good fortune.
Victorian houses, their colors bleached by the maritime sun, dignify the streets. Small paneled homes – formerly fishermens' shacks, now worth close to $1,000,000 – intermingle with their ancestors. Potted gardens decorate stairways. Cats stare, speculating, out of the windows.
Our hotel was across the street from the beach.
One night, Boyfriend and I walked onto the stone jetty and looked into the liquid, languid black. We heard a soft splashing close by and peering closer, we saw four or five harbor seals staring at us in whiskered inquiry. The moonlight reflected in their bovine eyes.
In the daytime one could look towards the ocean and see otters, seals and sea lions. Battalions of pelicans fly in formation – then will suddenly wheel up into the sky and dive like harpoons into the unsuspecting ocean. Once we saw an egret – a white smudge showing through the blue fog – standing on a floating island of kelp.
Every October there is a Butterfly Parade. Children are released from crysalis-like classrooms, wearing painted paper wings and carrying banners to welcome the annual arrival of the monarch butterflies. The monarchs have traveled hundreds of miles, in uncountable numbers, turning the sky into stained glass shot through with orange and gold lights. They seek the eucalyptus trees in the Butterfly Sanctuary and cling together for warmth. They navigate the complicated air like tiny amber frigates.
We visit the Sanctuary every year. This time the wind was brisk, and the creatures struggled in its grip. It had also rained the previous night, leaving the ground wet and sticky. I saw one butterfly thrown down, becoming stuck fast in the damp. Its wings protested weakly. I approached it and gently pinched them between two fingers. I placed it on my hand and carried it to some shrubs where other butterflies had sought shelter. Perhaps it liked my hand, the little plateau between thumb and forefinger, because it held on tightly before I was able to pull it away.
I feel that only in Pacific Grove could such a drama have been enacted. And only in Pacific Grove could there be City Ordinance No. 352: making it a misdemeanor to kill or threaten a butterfly, punishable by a $1,000 fine.