El Capulin Monarch Sanctuary, Mexico, 2007. Deep in the Sierra Madre Mountains, millions of monarch butterflies are arriving from North America after their grueling annual migration. They cover the mountaintop, the trees. Leigh Ann Henion, there on a magazine assignment, is smack dab in the middle of them. “They brushed against my face and fell into my hair,” she said, enchanted by the glorious sight.
And so began her love affair with spectacular natural phenomenon. She made a list of other extraordinary things she wanted to see.
But sometimes life gets in the way.
Fast forward three years and Leigh Ann is the brand-new mother of a colicky baby boy who cries a lot and never sleeps. She despairs of ever being able to return to life as she knew it, much less follow her as yet unrealized dream, going through an ordeal of prolonged post-partum sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety and runaway hormones that turns her life upside down and inside out.
As months go by, Leigh Ann’s solution to her new-mom dilemma is to question that being a good mother means devoting every drop of her being to her child. With more than a little angst, she decides that being true to her spirit of adventure will make her a better mother and she throws out the How-to-Be-a-Good-Mom rule book.
She dusts off her dormant dream and hatches a plan. Why not write a book about the natural phenomena on her list? Leigh Ann is lucky. She has parents who will babysit, an open-minded, self-employed husband who works from home, and she’s a free-lance writer. Her publisher goes for it, she gets an advance and is on her way, off and on, for the next two years. In search of wonder.
Her adventures take her to Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Hawaii, Sweden, Africa and Australia. She chases plankton-induced bioluminescence, extreme lightning, simmering volcanoes, the northern lights, the migration of wildebeest (being charged by a bull elephant!), and last but definitely not least, a total solar eclipse that blows her mind.
Leigh Ann willingly admits to being blessed with a fair share of anxiety, calling herself “a hesitant adventurer,” so in order to experience some of the dicier escapades on her list she has to face some fears head on, taking calculated risks, but not reckless ones. She doesn’t have a death wish. It’s more of a life wish.
After witnessing the “grande finale” solar eclipse, Leigh Ann returns home to be with her family and finish her book. But she claims she’s not the same woman she was before starting her odyssey. Somewhere along the way, her search for wonder became more, much more. “I don’t know how this pilgrimage to wonder has turned into such an intensely spiritual quest,” she says. “What I do know is this: I’m beginning to see my own life as part of a magnificent, ever-unfolding story.”
Henion describes her experiences with a richness of words that makes you feel as if you’re there yourself. Her story is worth reading just for the sheer beauty and magic of the natural phenomena she describes, the background that goes with it, and the interesting characters she meets along the way. You may even find yourself adding some of her natural wonders to your bucket list. I did.
Solar eclipse, anyone? There’s one coming in 2017!