Monday, June 6, 2011

With many thanks to Hyalophora cecropia

Tonight, the girls (the almost eight year old and the eight month old - excellent family planning!) and I visited Target for the typical baby purchases: new size 18mos onesies for the "small" one.  *Insert audible sigh.*

As we departed in the 6:30 p.m. heat of 90+ degrees in June (which, let the records show, I welcome!), Sophie spotted a new friend on the concrete blocks above the blazing asphalt - a massive, gorgeous moth.

We snapped a few photos, and Sophie gazed at her pal wistfully.  Two things kicked in for me: Mommy/let's learn mode and "all wild things are good and free" mode (thanks, Audra!).  The former prevailed.  Honestly, I felt sorry for (at the time) him in that concrete jungle.  He was moving slowly, if at all, thanks to the heat.  I suggested we bring him home to our garden to have a little better and more pleasant chance.  I lifted him carefully and set him in our cart next to the milk, and promised Sophie he would not fly away.  At the car, he seemed more than happy to oblige us by moving into one of my canvas go home baskets (oh, the irony!).  The box sat in Sophie's lap, and she grinned at him the whole way home.

Once arrived, we agreed that she could wait on Fred to get home to discuss her new friend.  She read a few books and anointed him Al (it was supposed to be Owl due to his markings, but Aunt Jo misunderstood...). 

She was massive - wings each nearly the size of Sophie's hands.  Fred arrived and helped her identify a female Hyalophora cecropia, and she became Ally instead.  We agreed that she could visit Tillery Elementary tomorrow for the last day of school, since little else is likely to be planned.  Tragically, her life cycle is no more than 7 - 10 days, and her sole purpose to find a mate.  She won't eat or drink anything during her short life, and although my guilt continued, my love of Sophie's exploration and enthusiasm prevailed. 

These days, we're not paying much attention to official bedtimes and duties.  Summer is past due, and riding a bike around the neighborhood or climbing trees suddenly seems more important to me, and most certainly to Sophie.  So, 9:00 p.m. approached and passed, and it grew dark outside.  We ate dinner on the front porch and tried to endure the increasing mosquitos, and we spotted some early fireflies.  We agreed that Ally's home (still the canvas box, now with a piece of newspaper on top) was grossly inadequate.  We moved to a glass vase, which she did not approve of in the least, and then finally to a wire basket with a little foil over the top, which proved lightweight but had handles for her eminent trip to school tomorrow.

Then, things became rather interesting.  Our new pal thrashed around, and just as we grew a little worried, she found a still spot on the edge of the wire basket, and we had a perfect view.  She started laying eggs in a line - 10, then 20, then 40 (at last count).  Sophie wriggled with excitement, her eyes were massive.  We hung the basket high on a wrought iron hook in the living room in the dark, and Sophie begged Fred to hold her up high.  With a little bead of light, we watched her progress and cheered her on inside.  She rested, we left her.

Her markings were gorgeous.  We watched 10% of her life.  While I'm conflicted by taking her into our home rather than letting her go on her preferred silver maple as intended, I think that it may not be in vain.  In this house lives a little girl who knows that every critter has a role, and her sense of interest and respect for all of us, our lifespan and our jobs on this planet is intact, if not growing.  I think it might be worth it.

The house is dark, and Ally is still.  I wonder if she'll be alive tomorrow, but I think she will, and I think a class of first graders might appreciate her and her work.  As a mom, I think I have the smallest semblance of that moment in the hours following such life-giving effort and an appreciation for that feeling of quiet, proud exhaustion.  At the very least, there is nothing like inspiring a sense of awe, curiosity and wonder in a child.  Regardless of the fate of her eggs, Ally's life was most certainly not in vain - I know a little girl who will always appreciate the things she encounters in nature, and she and they will both be better for it.

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