The five-inch-wide, chocolate-colored moth flexed its wings and caught my eye when I stooped to pick peas. A tangle of beige and green, the half-dead vines held only a handful of pea pods. The moth clung to a tendril on the top of a dead vine.
Splashes of coral beaded its wings, along with a scalloped pattern that put me in mind of eyelet lace edging. While my hands searched for peas, I watched the moth move his feathered antennae, brushing them against his front legs and the vine he perched upon. Quietly I picked, prepared for him to fly away at any instant, but the moth remained.
Due to the numerous blossoms gracing my garden, I witnessed butterflies daily. But large moths seldom reveal themselves on hot summer mornings; most of them are in flight during dusk and dawn. I itched to examine my insect guide and reacquaint myself with this fellow's identity.
Only one other time had I observed a moth near this size, and that one was a luna, resting in the depths of the Tennessee hills. The size of a bread and butter plate, the luminescent moth had settled on the mowed grass outside the main building of the Sunset Gap Community Center where I was volunteering. Walking through the mists that rippled and rose from our hollow, I saw the pale green glow of the moth. Naturally, I rallied all the other volunteers to feast on the sight of this rarity before we sat down to breakfast. The luna had flown by the time we'd completed our meal.
Over the years, I had hoped that one day I would spy that pale-green moth on my farm, or one of the other giant silkworm moths my field book describes.
Finishing one side of the pea trellis, I inched toward the moth, who was still exercising his wings like a dancer practicing pliés. By this time I had decided that the young fellow had recently emerged from his cocoon and was stretching his wings. A plethora of caterpillars had been eating my fennel and carrot tops; perhaps he had belonged to that greedy gang. The name Cecropia tumbled about my mind; the largest of the Saturniid moths with the characteristic "eye" on each wing, I was to read later that day.
I finished picking peas, the final pods from these weary vines. I left the moth resting in the corner of my garden, shaded by sassafras trees.
Soon he would discover that his colors blended better with the shadows of dusk. But his eyelet-embellished wings with their waves of coral would linger long after in my mind, a velvet flower ready to fly onto the night.