A Gypsy Moth’s Dilemma
The sound of the river was well behind me and to the left. The water was moving rapidly from the upper reservoir, through the sluiceways of the dam, cascading over the gorge, dropping over one hundred and forty-five feet and rushing into the lower reservoir from where it would dump out into the huge lake. The mist from the falls had been heavy and swirling, coating my wings with perilously heavy water droplets. I had to strive to push myself up through and beyond the mist into the last pre-dusk shafts of sunlight to dry myself so that I might continue on.
The darkness in the forest, beneath the leafy canopy, became complete so much sooner than up above. The western horizon was still a glowing orange ribbon with pale pink luminescent clouds shimmering above it while below even the shadows had been erased by the darkness. There were bats known to be living in the caves in this area, and I had intended to be well clear of their ter- ritory before now, but I had dawdled, allowing my normally erratic course to become even more so in the wonderfully warm sun of a late summer afternoon. I had just decided to land gently on one of the tiny branches holding the uppermost level of leaves within the canopy when I felt the glorious rush of the warm thermal rising beneath me. I knew that I should ignore it. I knew that I should rest for the evening and then continue my journey with the first graying strokes of dawn’s rising, but the thermal beckoned to me and I was weak.
Slowly and gradually I circled down toward the camp, which I knew had to be below me. The darkness quickly enveloped me and made my approach invisible. Not that any of those below me would have paid me any mind. Our presence in their world rarely even made an impact, while their presence in ours had tremendous and often cataclysmic consequences.
I lit upon a branch a good forty feet above the camp and several feet outside the thermal siren rising from beneath, so that I could get a feel for what was below me. There had to be several of them comprising the encampment. To the east, about twenty-five meters from the main body of the camp were two small tents. They were linked to the main camp by a pathway illuminated with smelly, Citronella torches belching black sooty smoke up into the night. There was a much larger tent, right in the middle of the camp proper and further to the southwest another larger tent with its own lit pathway through the night. Humans, I thought, so ironically seeking out the solitude of the woods but terrified by the darkness that always waited for them within.
There were two gas filled lanterns glowing brightly at either end of the pavilion that had been erected in the small clearing. The smell and the audible hiss of the pressurized gas was unmistak- able amidst all the other natural smells of decomposing wood and leaves. There was a camp stove, boiling water for whatever that strange smelling brew was which the humans favored to drink, rounding out the heat sources but for the one. The one that had no doubt been responsible for the great siren song of rising hot air that had called me here. There were several chairs circling the great fire pit in the middle of the camp and all were occupied. I always found it amazing that the orange, red and blue dancing flames of a fire were as mesmerizing to humans as they were to members of my own species.
Whoever had built this fire had put a great deal of care and thought into it. The logs were stacked crisscrossed, several layers high, with large ventilation gaps left at the bottom so that the fire could suck in great gulps of oxygen allowing it to send its searing tendrils ripping up into the night sky. The rapidly rising thermal draft caused the tree branches it passed to dart and weave as if caught in the swirling waters of a large whirlpool.
I heard the fire calling to me, beckoning me to come forward from my darkness into the searing brilliance of itself. It mocked my pathetic solitude and urged me to join the white heat intensity of its oneness. It glared upon the weaknesses and frailties it inspired me to shrug off.
I left the safety of the branch on which I had lighted and chose to make a lazy looping circle of the entire camp. Each heat source I floated above attempted to drive me up and away from the area but, with determination, I simply tucked my wings for a second and darted lower. At the eastern end of the path, over the two smaller tents, I wheeled around and dove still lower, reaching the same elevation as the sputtering torches. I passed the first one on the right side, leaving sufficient distance so that I barely felt its warmth. But the second one I arched in much closer. I winced as I felt the fine cilia at the tip of my wing quickly dry and curl in the heat. I passed the second torch on the left side and flapped wildly to raise myself directly up over the third. The rising thermal pushed me skyward as if I had a string tied about me linking me to a rocket launched at the moon. The exhilarating rush took my breath away and quickly erased any remnants of pain from the close encounter with the second torch. I veered away from the center of the camp that the pathway was leading me into. One of the humans felt that I had come too close, invading their territory, and swung wildly. The agitated air behind their rushing hand pushed me over toward the pavilion where I thankfully came to rest to survey my situation.
I dove at the fire itself after taking a deep breath to steady myself. I could feel the heat building tremendously as I narrowed the gap between myself and the circle of rocks the humans had erected around the blaze in a futile effort of containment. As if rocks could contain something so powerful as fire!
I felt the pull of the draft being drawn into the center of the raging inferno and was tempted to surrender myself to it. Beneath the sound of the crackling flames dancing upon the surface of the logs, I could discern the steady hum of the fire as it consumed the wood. I risked a sidelong glance into the core of the fire’s presence and was awestruck by the purity of its intense beauty. The coals at the center were white hot, shimmering and pulsing with each fresh gust of oxygen that jetted up through the fissures being cut into the logs above. Each flame became a pathway to its own destiny curling up out of the fire pit and racing up into the glorious night sky. I trembled before the wonder of it. But I lingered too long! I could feel the heat beginning to dry me, damn me, and destroy me. I sheared away at the last possible moment and spun out into the darkness beyond the camp’s perimeter. The damage was minimal. My wings, singed, still functioned. I landed on the edge of the pavilion, just above one of the white fuel lamps and tried to think logically.
I should leave immediately, I knew. I should just find a quiet place in the dark, where hopefully my wings would recover, and leave with the morning’s first light. I should turn away from the light and embrace the darkness where, though death might hover it was less assured. There was hope in the darkness, opportunity and perhaps survival. But, in the light, in the heat and light was the glorious promise of release and freedom. It made no sense to crave it so!
I was momentarily distracted by the steady thudding sound made by several other species of moths, smaller than I, flying headlong into the glass shield standing between the burning pouch-
es of gas within the lantern and themselves. The glass was very hot and I could sense their pain, as on each attempt they were repelled. Still they continued, driven by forces they could neither control nor deny. I saw the fragile, delicate skeletons of those who had breached the wall. The ports, which the humans used to light the lanterns, provided an entrance to the promise the lantern dangled before its bewildered and
bedeviled worshippers. The fragile piles of debris, which had once shared the joy of life and flight, showed none of the anticipated ecstasy their release had forsworn. Neither did they show pain or fear or sorrow. They had simply entered into an instantly sublime nothingness.
One of the humans stood and with a great fanfare, amidst the other’s cheers, cast several more logs onto the blaze sending a towering shower of sparks spiraling up to the stars above. The flames leapt upon its prey gleefully, surging with a renewed strength and vigor and its song to me grew stronger as well.
I flapped my wings gently, testing them. I needed to know if they would stand up to the chal- lenge of another charge. What are you thinking, I asked myself as I stared so intently at the fire that everything else faded from view? I focused every fiber of my being on the quiet serenity I felt growing within me. Questions fell away, plans disintegrated, aspirations dissolved. There was only the searing exhilaration of consumption. I left my perch almost without knowing that I had done so. I flapped my wings twice to align myself with the point of entry I had already decided upon, then held them rigid and swooped down to my destiny.
“Dad? Dad, did you see that?” shouted a young girl excitedly from her seat near the huge camp- fire.
“What?” sputtered her father, startled back to wakefulness by her outcry, “Did I see what?”
“A big huge moth just did a nose dive into the fire.” she said starting to laugh.
“Cool,” he said yawning, and rising from his chair, he turned toward the large tent in the center of camp, the moth already forgotten, “I’m going to bed, goodnight all.”