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Golden State. | CALIFORNIA DATELINE / PATT MORRISON

Don't Forget the Ring--or the Caterpillars

July 28, 1998|PATT MORRISON

Imagine anew the moment in "The Graduate" when a man whispers into Dustin Hoffman's ear the magic word, the stuff of the future: not "plastics," but instead, "butterflies."

The butterfly business, a raise-and-release trade, is--forgive the wordplay--taking off in California as a new tradition for weddings, funerals and memorials. Hurling rice at nuptials has fallen rather out of favor; dry rice can seriously hurt birds who eat it. Popcorn lends the festivities the air of a movie premiere. Balloons can wind up tangled in high-tension wires or in sea creatures' innards. And doves are unpredictable in more ways than flight patterns.

But releases of butterflies--environmentally neutral (the monarch is native to all of North America) and emotionally evocative, are becoming the event event.

One firm, Magical Beginnings butterfly farms in Los Gatos, was started up by two guys fed up with the ferocities of high-tech printing, packaging, advertising, of long days and short vacations. Now they follow the butterfly's March-through-October season, breeding orange-and-black monarchs to take flight at weddings, memorials--including one for a TWA 800 flight attendant--and even a movie premiere.

"Most people now," says co-founder Michael Talesfore, "maybe have seen a butterfly here or there. . . . I used to see them a lot when I was little. You don't see them any more." The symbolic metamorphosis, chrysalis to butterfly to fly-away, is "something very spiritual . . . the soul has the ability to transcend from earth to heaven, which is what the butterfly has ability to do."

And best of all, unlike rice, popcorn or doves, there's nothing to clean up afterward.

*

Face time: Look straight up to find a bird, a plane or Superman, but lower your sight line a few degrees, and there on the mountainside is Jesus. So says Frederick Bandack, who told the Contra Costa Times that the face of Jesus is on the side of Mt. Diablo--Devil Mountain.

Bandack first saw it on an L.A.-to-Oakland flight, but says it can be seen from Interstate 680 as well--clear and wooded areas of eyebrows, beard and hair. When the weather is particularly clear in the East Bay, a smaller image of the mountain's eponymous devil can be seen, Bandack says. He is selling postcards of his vision, the proceeds going to charities like women's and children's shelters.

Human or divine images often turn up in beholders' eyes. A devil on one side of Mt. San Jacinto figures into Native American lore; some people see an angel on the other side.

A cross on a bathroom window in Altadena, a crucifix on a garage door in Santa Fe Springs, the Jesus in a spaghetti ad on an Atlanta billboard, and on a tortilla shell in Lake Arthur, N.M., have drawn thousands. And last year, some folks in Nashville saw Mother Teresa's face in a cinnamon bun.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Living on Death Row

The execution of Thomas Martin Tompson by lethal injection two weeks ago leaves 508 death row inmates awaiting the same fate, a number that has climbed steadily over the last decade. The ethnic makeup of the prisoners is currently 44% white, 36% black, 16% Latino and 4% other races. Eight of the condemned are women.

Source: California Department of Corrections

Researched by TRACY THOMAS / Los Angeles Times

Note: 1998 figure is as of July 14

*

One-Offs: After a supplier didn't have the right kind of paper, Oceanside police found themselves running out of blank traffic tickets--but warned that reinforcements were expected any day. . . . In the 13 months since he arrived on loan from Cleveland, the head of San Francisco's housing authority has cost the city a reported $259,000 in reimbursements of pay, benefits and expenses, making him the city's highest paid employee in spite of his temporary status. . . . A 12-year-old Berkeley girl whose mother got a problematic parking ticket timed 50 city meters and found that only 6% were accurate, prompting proposed legislation to create Ellie Lammer's Meter Law to guarantee accuracy. . . . After eight years of searching for a new home, the collection of the Golden Gate Bonsai Foundation will put roots down in Oakland's Lakeside Park.

EXIT LINE . . . a tie:

"I saw to it that she had the very best possible podiatrist--the one who did my throat two years ago."

--Gov. Pete Wilson, speaking of his wife's recent foot surgery--and his own more troublesome 1995 throat surgery.

*

"The hardest thing on the river rafting trip was not negotiating the rapids. The hardest thing when the press was there was keeping my gut sucked in."

--GOP Senate candidate Matt Fong, at a $1,000-a-plate fund-raising dinner, of his recent sojourn on the American River.

California Dateline appears every other Tuesday.

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