The Genehouse walk today began with but a single step from the house. A splendid Imperial Moth lay, wings extended, in some fallen leaves just below the porch. Its wingspan was three inches across, its coloration mottled yellow and brown. Eyespots dotted its wings.
Giant moths have in common that when they are fully articulated they are the most beautiful creatures to behold, they have but four to five days to live, and one mission, to mate and leave behind the next generation encased in tiny eggs. They don’t even eat, for they won’t live long enough to be hungry.
Like the biblical, mythical Seven Days of Creation, it’s all relative. Imagine, you’re a perfect specimen of a teenager, you spot the most gorgeous boy or girl of the imagination, you mate and mate with abandon for four days, the girls among you lay eggs, and then you die.
I walked through the canopy of shade down Stroke Hill, every step orchestrated by the frenzied music of cicadas. Hummingbird Man, aka Vance, with his long blond ponytail reaching to his butt, was working on a four-wheeler engine in the front yard. Twelve hummingbird feeders hung from windows and a fir tree. For every nectar portal, four or five rubythroats fought to reach the liquid. I stood amidst the feeders, and hummingbirds chattered in my ears and swarmed my face.
“I’ve trapped at least five coons,” Vance said. “They come at four a.m. and climb the tree and try to take the feeders down. I just let them go, upriver. If you know what I mean.”
I walked east along the Mississippi. Great and snowy egrets looked like stilt walkers, plodding along the shoreline of Scotch Jimmy Island. The water was riffled by a cool breeze, and sailboats zigzagged across Alton Lake.
And then I spotted an indigo bunting, flitting along the bluff trees. It was finch-shaped, its body electric neon deep blue. It was spearing insects. A couple of bikers stopped and asked what I was watching, and we all marveled at the sight. Indigo buntings are royalty, related to cardinals. They make bluebirds appear pale, by comparison.
Nearing home, I stopped in at Farmer Orville’s place. He and Quilt Queen were talking Taco Bell. “Or just get anything,” Quilt Queen said. “I don’t care.” “She don’t mean it,” Orville said. “Bring back an exact order, or there will be hell to pay. I am a man who knows where his bread is buttered.” His wife smiled and nodded.
Orville groupies arrived in cars, seeking tomatoes. Country small talk broke out. I saluted my friends and walked home.
Birds and butterflies can break your heart. The beauty, the song. Half of all animal species on earth have gone extinct. We like the show of nature, more than the stewardship it would take to preserve living things. There will always be butterflies. Except, there won’t. Our great-grandchildren may only know butterflies and moths from sketches in books.
But hey, as one friend put it, “Glad I won’t be around to see it.” And your kin? The children? “Well, I hope they figure it out.”