Burned Up With Beauty, Moonsick With Moths

My latest love

This summer has been eye opening for me. I’ve experienced grief and love and kindness and longing, the depth of which is magnified by the violence and virus that defines 2020. But in the creases between these emotional ridges I’ve been soothed by the nature in my backyard.

As if she’s granting tiny, beautiful offerings of solace Mother Nature keeps presenting me with amazing surprises that are so spectacular and rich with sentiment I can’t help but feel special. Just one example of her gifts is the luna moth.

Almost ghostly due to its translucent green coloring, the luna gets its name from the moonlike spots on its wings. It’s nocturnal, making it prey for bats, but its elongated, curvy tails on the hindwings scatter their wing sound, making echolocation tricky. Pretty cool, right?

Earlier in the summer, just at dusk, I happened upon a pair of lunas mating on a yew in the front yard. They stayed silently connected for an admirable amount of time and then the gentlemoth took flight while the lady rested.

Mating pair

Then a couple Saturdays ago I was watering some potted things and scared up another luna. He sailed up and I watched until he was a few hundred feet away before I turned back to watering. There on the ground was a beautiful luna female. Her wings were rumpled and the twisted kite tails that usually adorn the hindwings were missing. She’d been born deformed and wouldn’t be able to fly.

New girl in town

But she’d mated and would lay eggs, serving her practical purpose in life. She rested all night under my hickory tree and the next day I spent chatting with her about her true purpose, giving me the gift of wonder.

Just chatting about life

I’d learned from some friends how to collect eggs and on her third day was delighted to find a few dozen in the paper bag she’d spent the night in. Having completed her sole bodily function she enjoyed a peaceful evening on my lap, as my daughter sat next to me and talked about daughter things.

That night I thanked this sweet luna and wished her well on her next adventure and set her back under the hickory on a soft bed of leaf mold. By morning she was gone.

Her eggs hatched ten days later and I had a week of new wonder, at how tiny and adorable they were, at how helpless I was to care for them properly, and at the amount of sadness I felt when I found them all no longer moving.

I think about these luna encounters a lot right now. One of my dearest friends, the sister kind of friend, has been sick nearly half a year now. And she’s almost at the end of her earthly journey. When I visit her we sit outside and I tell her about my yard, about the luna moths I’ve been meeting.

I’m not sure she is as fascinated by nature as I am but for more than two decades she’s taken dozens of walks with me, and my late mother, and she was with me as we took my daughter on her very first nature walk. She has a nature spirit and I’m fully certain she will visit me in the future on a walk, in some fabulous form.

Jeanne, Mom, and Me

I think of a poem by Don Marquis about a conversation between a man and a moth, in which the man questions the moth’s desire to fly into the light. The moth tells him:

it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while

He knows what the real reason for life is: wonder. In all its forms. Loving recklessly, laughing relentlessly, living the most beautiful life you can.

My friend has lived her adventurous life for a long time, and though her friends and family would choose it to be much longer, I know that she’s felt complete for some time. She’s had some pretty beautiful experiences in her life, and if I know her as well as I think I do, she’d agree with the moth’s observation:

it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever

My friend’s favorite book is The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. She told me many, many years ago she’d like to have a passage of that book read at her funeral. It’s unlikely she’ll have the kind of funeral we would’ve had prior to 2020, so I’m ending this post with a line of his that reminds me of her. If you happen upon any luna moths on your next nature walk, smile and say hi for me. Maybe it’s someone I know.

“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair”
― Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

Author’s note: This post took me all day yesterday and into the night to write, and when I finished I sat outside in the moonlight and thought of my friend. Jeanne walked on to her next adventure at about the same time.

Follow more wonder about Luna Moths:

The study of the twisted tail

The Lesson of the Moth poem

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