moth magic   16 comments

moth attempting to follow instructions on a folding ladder

For a number of years, I have enjoyed going out late in the evening to photograph moths. While still at our farm near Ottawa, many would come to a simple porch lamp on the front steps. Here at the house at Round Hill, I set an old bug zapper unit on a plastic adirondack chair, wrap the whole works in a plain white sheet, then turn the UV lamp on for a little while each evening. The air temperature is usually comfortable, the human-created background noise much reduced, and the night is filled with life as moths, caddisflies, stoneflies, beetles, and other flying and crawling insects gather around the lamp for the short while that it is lit. Here at Round Hill, it is usual to see at least four or five new species among the regulars, although some nights can be much better.

The atmosphere has always seemed restful to me as I study and photograph whatever comes to the light. Regardless of what stressful events are taking place in my life, time spent with the moths always seemed peaceful and meditative. After I’m finished shooting a batch of photos, I switch off the lamp and within minutes, most of the moths and other creatures have dispersed into the darkness of the night. Over the next day or two, I edit the photos, attempt to ID them, and put them up online in a gallery for that purpose. It has really been the moths that have helped me to regain some of the interest in insect photography that was lost when Don became ill and died. People often comment that I will eventually “get over” losing Don, but that’s not the reality of how things work when you lose the person you spent two-thirds of your life with. The most you can ever hope to do is to carry on, trying to find anything that interests you enough to keep going. As the saying goes, If you’re going through Hell, don’t stop! (which probably owes its origin to the Winston Churchill quote, “If you are going through hell, keep going”). That’s how life is for those who have lost someone they care about very much. You never get over it, you just learn to keep going in an attempt to keep the pain and sadness from dragging you down. It’s a struggle that is never far from your thoughts, especially for the first few years.

Anyhow, for me, the moths are like a form of magic medicine that keeps me marching onwards through Hell. So is working on this old house. Some might think that the house would be a form of stress — the way that one job turns into another and another – rather like opening chinese boxes. However, I find the challenge of trying to restore or repair parts of the house very helpful. Each day, I discover a new challenge, but also very often see the completion of something tangible that I’ve been working on. The same goes for seeing, photographing, and identifying a new moth species for this location. Perhaps all of this seems meaningless to others, but that’s of no concern to me. Besides, the moths are incredibly beautiful. The intricacy of their shapes and patterns is almost beyond the imagination. Last night, I had a first sighting at this location for the Lettered Habrosyne moth (Habrosyne scripta – Hodges #6235) – see below. Such a wonderfully marked moth with fine lines that can only be appreciated through magnification. Is it really any wonder that I enjoy studying moths?

Written by bev on July 6th, 2010

16 Responses to 'moth magic'

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  1. I agree, bev, I don’t think it’s possible to “get over” losing someone that you have deeply and dearly loved. It would be like forgetting, and that is just not possible nor desirable. I think the loss becomes a part of who you are, and with that loss you find ways to carry on as your new self. Photographing moths is good medicine. It is life affirming and always confirms what is in your heart.

    robin andrea

    6 Jul 10 at 5:54 pm

  2. Often people don’t have the words to express comfort in a any way that helps, and so they’re reduced to platitudes and clichés. I don’t think that you ever ‘get over’ the loss of someone you love. What happens is that you become more accustomed to the pain. It may not hurt with such intensity, but that’s not at all the same as getting over it!

    That moth is sublime. Those silken ruffs curving into twin rosettes and the delicate etching-like patterns on the wings are ravishing!

  3. even before reading the actual post, I had to stop at “keep body centered between side rails, do not over-reach.” That is perfect for my day today. Finding those small things of interest, for me – sometimes good medicine with a backlash kick that is a bit too strong, i.e.: how could you spend a day at the beach building sand race-cars with a four year old, and actually floating in water? Are you aware it is 360 days since Matt drowned? Is it possible you are forgetting?

    Mmm. Keeping myself centered between the side-rails, do not over-reach in either direction, neither being alone with the dog all the time, nor pushing myself to be too “normal” or social at any given time.

    That the being you have slept with and hiked with and had just Life with could be suddenly physically gone is not something that goes away, nor does all of that Life. People want a happy ending, they want it to be all okay and over with – the thought of a hitch in your deepest giddyup for the rest of your life, however long that may be, is way too much for most.

    Lovely moth. The juvenile ospreys have begun their test flights here, chirping and barking at each other, swooping down over the yard. Makes me smile in spite of myself.


    6 Jul 10 at 7:37 pm

  4. Hi Bev…

    I used to work in the community as a visiting nurse. I met a wonderful lady who I nursed for over a year, and who passed away shortly after I moved. Her husband and I kept in touch, infrequently, and I grieved her loss with him. I am guilty of wanting him to find some peace…some happiness again.

    I remembering asking him if “things” were any better. He said, “Aww, Wendy, I don’t think it gets any better or hurts any less. You just get used to the pain and the empty chair.”

    I am glad that there is something you can do to ease your pain… and thank you for introducing me to your world.


    6 Jul 10 at 8:11 pm

  5. robin – Yes, the moths are surely good medicine. I have a lot of nice memories of spending evenings photographing them at my farm. I think that moments spent doing familiar things can sometimes help to take us back to a time when all seemed right with the world. There’s a bit of magic in that.

    C live – I agree that it seems as though we just get accustomed to the pain of loss. After a time, it becomes a part of who we are. In the past, I have likened it to a tree growing over some object like a spike or a rock. It’s still inside, but the tree continues to live and the outside world ceases to be aware of what lies within.
    Isn’t that moth special! I love the way you described it – yes, that is just how it is. It was one of those moths that produces a “wow” when I put the photo up on my computer last night!

    megan – Yes, I can see where the photo of the moth on the ladder would suggest those thoughts. Trying to maintain that “center” is not so easy for us. It is something we have to work at pretty hard each day. I hope that we will both find it less difficult with time. Of course, it all comes and goes — I say like waves in the ocean. Sometimes the ocean is calm and the waves are small, but at other times, it is angry and agitated and the waves are like mountains. We never really know which way it will go, so we just have to learn how best to manage. The osprey have been over the river here as well too. I have not yet seen the juvenile birds, but that should be quite soon!

    Wendy – Thanks for leaving your comment. Your friend is right – you just gradually get used to things over time. It doesn’t go away, but you slowly learn what helps you to manage from day to day. Moths and fixing up an old house help to do it for me!


    6 Jul 10 at 8:30 pm

  6. the ladder has that pertinent encouragement printed on it

    Messages in ladders.


    6 Jul 10 at 10:55 pm

  7. “moth attempting to follow instructions on a folding ladder’

    That’s how I see my life as of late. I’m trying to climb up each rung of the ladder, not completely knowing if I am doing this correctly. Although typical male, I never read instructions. I keep moving forward, well, attempt to keep moving forward. Sometimes, like today, I begin to doubt myself, and feel a bit petrified. Like a child who climbs up a ladder only to worry about how he will get back down.

    As my move gets closer, I am feeling quite overwhelmed by all the work and preparation. I hope that once all this is done, and I am on the road, that I will return to feeling like I am moving toward something good.


    7 Jul 10 at 2:44 am

  8. Bev, the rock/tree analogy is a very fine one, not least because it so evocatively illustrates that what may seem to the casual observer to have disappeared, has not.

    When I was a young man and the deaths that I experienced stung sharply, in my innocence I thought that with time I would ‘get used’ to losing loved ones. It would become a familiar process. But of course the truth is much harsher, because each loss chips away at our hearts and leaves us more battle-worn.

    A few years ago a post-woman irresponsibly speeding away on a friend’s drive killed my six month old puppy, Ludo. My friend witnessed the ‘accident’, whereas I came racing out of the house a moment later. She’s elderly and quite fragile now. As a child she escaped the Holocaust, has been long widowed, and many years ago in Austria lost a baby in an almost inconceivable accident. As we knelt in the driveway holding Ludo and each other, I became aware that that the loss of a puppy would seem a very small thing indeed to a woman who had once lost a child. I tried to comfort her, saying clumsily that it was a horrible thing but that I didn’t want her turning herself inside out with grief over a puppy. He was not, after all, a person. She shouted at me, ‘it’s not ANY different. When you love it isn’t who or what you love that matters. There’s only the love!!!’

    To which truth I had no reply. All loss diminishes us. With every death I’ve experienced I’ve later felt less myself, as though a piece of me has detached itself and floated away. Perhaps one day… if I get to that stage… there will be so little left that the last bit of me will float away too.

    When I hear in the news that scientists have found some new secret of the universe to extend life almost indefinitely, I think to myself that those scientists must be very young people indeed, who haven’t yet discovered that eternal life of the corporeal variety is a rather daunting notion to those who have already lived long enough to see most of their loved ones go before them. But then I guess the product will be aimed at those who are still young enough to believe that living forever is a great idea! I’m meandering. I’ll stop now.

  9. megan – The ladder does have pertinent encouragement. It’s important to see the messages around us as an encouragement to try, rather than as a warning against making an attempt. Staying positive can be very difficult. However, the best way to move forward is without fear or regret.

    Dan – I just left a comment to your blog post about the final preparations for moving. You’re doing very well. I was in much the same place as you last year. It was very tough going it alone. I remember how hard it was and how I occasionally doubted the decision to move. However, I have a feeling that, later on, when the dust has settled, you’ll be feeling a lot better about the move.

    C live – Oh, what you have written is all so true — and don’t worry about “meandering”. I understand so well your elderly friend’s words. And, yes, all loss diminishes us. I too have experienced that feeling of losing a part of myself that seems to have floated away after each loss. In time, I think one begins to feel ephemeral – and as though you are existing in a place that is between two worlds. For me, it has always seemed that nature is that place where the two worlds meet, so I’m most comfortable being out there where all in possible. My grandfather, who lived to be 99 and outlived just about everyone he’d ever known, used to say, ‘It takes courage to grow old.’ Indeed it does. Thanks for leaving this comment as I think it speaks to many of us and what we are experiencing.


    7 Jul 10 at 6:32 am

  10. I love all winged creatures and your moths are beautiful. take care of yourself dear Bev.


    7 Jul 10 at 11:51 am

  11. […] Journey to the Center Regardless of what stressful events are taking place in my life, time spent with the moths always seemed peaceful and meditative. After I’m finished shooting a batch of photos, I switch off the lamp and within minutes, most of the moths and other creatures have dispersed into the darkness of the night. This entry was posted Wednesday, July 7th, 2010 at 9:06 pm, last modified at 9:06 pm, 7/7/10 and is filed under Smorgasblog.  Print […]

    Via Negativa

    7 Jul 10 at 8:06 pm

  12. Oh, I do understand that interest in identifying those fellow organisms that live along with you, and it can be a very relaxing thing. I also love the thrill when I have made the i.d. and it just adds to the enjoyment. There are many ways to find solace, of course, but this is one that especially works well for me. And now I’m going to have to seriously try out the moth approach. I sit out on the front porch late at night and take note of them, but haven’t tried teasing them out yet.

    It’s not just that it’s relaxing, either. It’s a skill that leads to something (like 100+ species of moths in Nova Scotia) that no small number of people will be grateful to find.

    Your moth photo reminded me immediately of something – that often there are patterns and color schemes that make a moth look broken, somehow. In that case, it was the wing area above the thorax, to me. And then I looked more closely and it was all a part of the scheme. Moths have great three dimensional features


    8 Jul 10 at 1:09 pm

  13. Cherie – Thanks! I find all of these creatures infinitely fascinating and enjoy being able to share them with everyone here on the blog.

    Wayne – I do find it relaxing to photograph and then ID moths and other insects. It takes my mind to a place that is just a little off on its own.
    I think it would be a real addition to your knowledge of the invertebrates at Sparkleberry Springs if you were to do some work on identifying moth species. The neat thing about moths is how closely they are tied to certain food plants – and, of course, there are so many species to get to know! Add to that their appearance, many of the species being so intricate in their coloration and textures, or so cryptic in shape and markings. They are really worth the time to study.


    8 Jul 10 at 5:00 pm

  14. Bev,

    Having just read the comments preceding mine – I am moved by the bold honesty in describing the endless pain of loss. Clive’s acknowledgment of the chipping away of self with loss after loss . . . well – what can one say to such a powerful, awful truth. Only that we survive, as you said – and somehow manage – like the tree growing over and around the rock or spike.

    It’s so interesting to read your thoughts on the ease from pain that your photography brings you.

    I swear I was just thinking that thought this morning as I was straining to get a picture of a small spider perched on a rudbeckia. We lose ourselves as we record the miracles around us.

    I do so enjoy your photos, Bev. And I’m inspired. Two days ago I actually photographed a spider that is the first one of its species for Bugguide. Mastophora Hutchinsoni. It was dumb luck, but no less exciting. You have been my inspiration.

    I need to reread your method of attracting moths. Sounds wonderful. And it’s just amazing that you’re finding so many species. You obviously made a great choice in Round Hill.

    Truly, you are remarkable. I know you don’t experience yourself that way. But for those of us who watch over your shoulder as you continue your journey with your house renovations and moth IDing and settling in at Round Hill with the pups – ‘remarkable’ seems a little weak. It’ll have to do for now :0)

    Cathy Wilson

    2 Aug 10 at 3:40 pm

  15. Cathy,

    I just finished taking a look at your spider photos on Bugguide. Well done! How neat!

    Yes, there is an endless pain that comes with loss. Lately, I seem to have reached some kind of balance where I don’t feel that much anger with what I perceive to be the “unfairness” of what happened to Don. However, the sadness is still there, as I expect it always will be. Most days it is manageable, but sometimes, something will happen that will resurrect the pain. I may write something about that in a post here in another day or two. I’m just thinking of some things I’d like to write about very soon.

    You’re right – I don’t feel very remarkable, but I do know that the things I’m doing are a little different — not the usual way of coping with loss and going on alone. However, I think that the path I’ve chosen, much as it’s quite difficult, was exactly the right thing for me to do.


    2 Aug 10 at 7:42 pm

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    Fabian Shih

    9 May 12 at 2:11 pm

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