Monday, February 6, 2017

DISCOVERY by James Mihaley

In January of 2014, I was invited to spend a week in Santa Barbara to help promote reading at local elementary schools.  I did an author presentation each morning and had the rest of the day to myself.  One afternoon, I drove to Goleta to see the migrating monarch butterflies that spend the winter in a giant grove of eucalyptus trees.  I will never forget the spectacle of five thousand butterflies floating in mid air.  It was the gentlest place on Earth. 

When I returned to LA, I told my friends about it.  One buddy of mine vowed to bring his kids to see the butterflies and fulfilled the promise a few weeks ago.  He insisted that I accompany he and his children on the journey.  He didn’t have to twist my arm.  Three other families joined us on the expedition.  We had a convoy of cars.  When we arrived at the eucalyptus grove in Goleta, to our shock and great disappointment, there were no butterflies to be found.  A naturalist who was present explained that the butterflies flew further south because of the cold rainy winter we were experiencing in Southern California. 

I felt terrible.  I led all these people, including half a dozen kids, on a long journey for nothing.  Now what the hell were we going to do?  Feeling no inclination to hop back in our cars, we wandered deeper into the forest of eucalyptus trees.  It led to a gorgeous sunlit field that had a trail running through it.  We followed the trail to the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean.  Down below, a lovely secluded beach unfolded.  The kids, who were enjoying themselves immensely, found a path leading down to the water. 
We spent the entire day at the beach, exploring, playing games, picnicking.  

At Sunset we walked back up the cliff, through the field into the forest and drove to Santa Barbara for a delicious Middle Eastern meal.  

By this time, no one felt deprived of anything by not seeing the butterflies.  We all had a wonderful day.  Sitting by the fire pit at the restaurant, it occurred to me that there was a profound lesson to be learned from this for my writing.  We think we know what the story is.  It’s about butterflies.  We’re supposed to tell a story about butterflies.  Maybe we’re not.  Maybe that’s not the story at all.  Maybe the point is to remain flexible and open to discovery.  We may not end up with butterflies.  But we will end up with magic.


  1. I love the idea of being open to discovery. Thanks for the great story about this, James.

  2. Yup, we never know what beauty we might find. A true story and lesson.

  3. Such a beautiful lesson! There's beauty all around us, even if it's not the kind we were looking for in the first place, especially in our writing. Wonderful reminder. Thank you!


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