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moths of childhood: the luna
june 01, 2004

Actias luna
The evening enters on the wings
of many moths
bringing ecstasy and reverie
to sweet, unholy essences.

~ Rixes

The leaded window opened
to move the dancing candle flame
And the first Moths of summer
suicidal came.

~ Jethro Tull

The porch on the front of the farmhouse where I grew up sloped at a 10-degree angle from the front door. If you spit on the floorboards, or the dog threw up, it all rolled down to the yard.

It was a great porch. It faced south, and the sunshine warmed it all day long through the dappled shade of the trees. Dogs and babies slept soundly on the gray floorboards and old adirondack furniture. Cats had litters of kittens there in frayed cardboard boxes lined with old work shirts.

The best thing about that porch was the naked light bulb in the center of the ceiling. The light stayed on well into the night, a beacon we looked to when we trudged up from the barn after milking and chores.

Summer nights, a kaliedoscope of moths, beetles, and lacy-winged insects whirled clockwise and counterclockwise around and around the light bulb. I spent hours studying the astounding variety of feathery antennae, carapices like big men's suits or car fenders, and wings that ranged from a panopoly of colors like Persian rugs to delicately leaded transparent panes.

Most beautiful were the milky green Lunas with their bodies like small white mice, their bright orange plumey antennae, their painted Egyptian eye on each top wing, and a span that stretched wider than my hand.

My mother called them Moon Moths. I very rarely see them these days.

This evening, walking across the campus where I work, I found this Luna dozing on the edge of the sidewalk. I picked it up and brought it home. It lives here now. Resting lightly on the painted Japanese fern in Charlie's Garden, it is barely visible against the blue-green leaves.

Photo: Actias luna
Note: Lunas are members of the Giant Silkworm family (Saturniidae spp.) along with Cecropia and Polyphemus moths. More about Lunas...

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