This morning I saw a luna moth. A huge thing, as big as my hand, and a soft, pale green. A green that reminded me of the bathroom in my childhood home. It was the green of my Nana’s kitchen in Front Royal – formica countertops, 1950’s dinette set, mugs hanging from hooks on the walls. Soft brown, furry dots that looked like eyes were on each wing, and its body was as fuzzy and white as a Q-tip. Or a puff of milkweed. Huge antennae grew from its head – pale yellow feathers for seeking out things. It was so delicate and beautiful that I could only stare and stare. Its eyes stared back at me, and it lay as still as if it had already been pinned and preserved under glass and placed in some Victorian gentleman’s wood-paneled den for all time.
My morning had begun with me prying myself from the bed in the pre-dawn hours, determined after many weeks of slacking to start my running program again. Seeing that luna moth felt like a reward. I huffed and puffed down our lane, house music pumping in my ears to wake me up, the faint sound of the morning birds breaking through as well as the faint thump of my feet on the pavement. As I struggled, panting for breath, I had a quick memory of my friends in high school mentioning how they had seen my mother running in the early morning hours before school, and had a quick feeling of “Well, I’m carrying on that tradition I guess.” I kept running, past the horse pastures, past the tiny, white-steepled Baptist church, the mist rising up, the sun rising over the hills. I passed a gravestone in the small churchyard – rose-colored and engraved with the word, “Momma” in curly script. Fake flowers surrounded it, pink and purple, red and blue.
And then I saw the moth. All thoughts of how much I was struggling and how my shins hurt faded away like morning mist. I stopped dead in my tracks, almost falling over myself. One second I was thinking, “That blade of grass looks weird,” the next it’s, “Is that a LUNA MOTH!?!?!?! Holy crap!”
Luna moths are very rare to spot, and almost always only come out at night. I’m no expert on bugs, mind you. All my knowledge comes from Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Prodigal Summer. In the book the main character, Lusa, is a bug expert and studies moths in particular. She happens to see the elusive luna late one night when she’s feeling hopeless. It appears to her, motionless and still, perched on a screen door. Lusa sees it as an omen of hope. That things have simply got to get better.
I saw it as this too. As I said before, it seemed like a reward for forcing myself to start running again. But it also felt hopeful. Not sure if this came from the fact I had read the book, or that I just needed a sign, or what. But it did seem awfully hopeful to see so majestic a thing so early in the morning. It felt like a discovery. It made me gasp.
As I ran back, I recalled how my cousins and I used to gather fireflies on summer evenings at my Nana’s house. And eat s’mores. Such a damn cliche, but we did, almost every summer when I was a child. We had old Mason jars and would run around the back yard catching them, studying them for a while, then releasing them into the night air. Stop to eat a s’more, then run around again, catching light. Every time we caught one, it felt like a new discovery, like no one on earth had ever done this before. Seeing the luna moth this morning felt like that.