Well, it was last fall and I was just finishing up moving stuff out of the farm up in Belgrade to move Nana down to Saco into her new condo. And I was picking up stuff in the yard. She had left a blue tarp out in the woods that she was using to put all the rusted, metal pieces on top of. The pieces she’d collect for me. She would dig up rusted, metal pieces out of the ground while she was gardening and she’d save them for me. To make things out of. Which, I wasn’t really making things out of, but she thought they looked cool, so she saved them for me. So I put the last of the chunks of the rusted, metal pieces in my truck, and I was picking up the blue tarp, and I noticed that underneath the blue tarp—stuck to it—was this brown… looked like a sac. Maybe about an inch and a half in diameter. Kinda made out of a tough… felt like a really tough paper. Like Tyvek. Do you know what Tyvek is? Tyvek is what they use to… it’s a sheath, kinda like paper… it’s what they use to wrap houses. When they’re building houses, before they put the shingles on. It’s really strong. That’s what this felt like.

So, I was curious about it, so I pulled it off. And just brought it home. And when I got it home, I went and got your sister, Rachael, ‘cause she likes kinda odd, weird things you find in the woods. And we were gonna look at it together. So I had it down in the workshop, and I brought her down to show it to her, and she didn’t know what it was either. So I thought we should cut it open. See what’s inside. I got a pair of scissors and a pair of tweezers and I cut it open. As I started to cut it open, something inside it started to move around. Like… squirming. I thought, well that’s strange. It kinda freaked us out a little bit. To think there was something alive in it. So we looked inside and there was a giant pupa of some sort. Some kind of insect. When I say giant, it looked like it was about an inch and a half long, inch and a quarter—it was a good size. And it was squirming all over the place. It was attached at one point to the sac we had cut into. At that point, I started thinking, I knew what it was… pupa or larvae. I didn’t know the exact term for it. Some type of bug. So, I didn’t want to do anything else to it, ‘cause I didn’t want to hurt it.

So, we did a couple of quick Googles, which we probably should have done before we cut into it, and it seemed like the best option of what it might be, would be a cocoon of a luna moth. We looked at it, we both thought that was probably it. We looked at a few things, but that seemed to make the most sense, considering where we found it. And it was fall—we were reading that there was a cycle of the luna moth—you know, its lifecycle—and they hibernate over the winter in their cocoon and they come out late spring, early summer.

I put it in a container and left it down in the shop, ‘cause the website said it needed to stay cool, stay under forty degrees, or something like that. So I put it down there and kinda forgot about it.

Come spring, I remembered. It was still in that little pouch and it would still move, if you touched it. It would still squirm around. And it was towards the end of April. And I thought, if this would have stayed outside, this would be around the time it would think about hatching. So, I thought, I better put it some place where I could keep an eye on it. So, I put it on the table next to my bed. I thought that would be the best place to keep an eye on it.

And, of course, Mom was wondering what was in the plastic jar next to my bed. And I told her. And, you know, Mom being Mom, she said, “Okay. That’s fine.”

It stayed there and didn’t do much. For a month. And I’d look at it every once and awhile. I knew it was still alive. And Mom has had experience with caterpillars turning into butterflies, ‘cause she’s brought monarch butterfly chrysalises into her classroom. She thought it was kinda strange this thing had lasted the whole winter in its cocoon, and she wasn’t confident that it was going to hatch into a moth. She said sometimes they get stuck—get stuck in a particular part of their cycle and never develop. And she thought that’s maybe what happened to it. But I thought, I’m not gonna give up on it. So, I kept it on the table near the bed. And every once in awhile, I’d poke it to see if it was alive, and watch it squirm around.

Then one day, I think it was early June, it was towards the end of school, I happened to look and there was a moth crawling out of it. And I was really excited. I mean, really excited. Weirdly excited to see this moth—and it was huge. You know, a luna moth is big. They got a wingspan of like four inches. And I’d seen one before, they only come out at night, you don’t see them very often. And this thing was crawling out of the cocoon and it was crawling up the side of the jar, and it’d made it to the top. And when they come out, of course I had done some reading on it, they need to perch somewhere and let their wings fill with fluid—they kinda inflate—and unfurl. It’s packed-up like a parachute on their back—they expand. It didn’t have room, so I put my finger down and it crawled right on it, and I walked over to the screen door, off the bedroom, and it crawled off my finger onto the screen. And I watched it for an hour. I went and got Mom to look at it. I don’t know if you were home yet. Rachael was home, so I got her to look at it. We all had to watch it. And everyone agreed it was pretty amazing. This beautiful green color—the wings were green.

I did some more research, you know, what should I expect? What do I do with it now? Should I keep it? Should I let it free? What do I do? Rachael wanted to keep it. ‘Cause she wanted to have it—she collects bones, rocks, and things like that—she wanted to have it. I did some more research, and it turns out, they only live ‘bout a week. They don’t eat anything. They don’t need to eat, ‘cause they only live ‘bout a week. They don’t even have a mouth! And all they do when they hatch is, they find another moth, and they mate, and the female lays eggs, which hatch into caterpillars. And once the female has laid her eggs, she dies. That’s the only thing she does as a moth. This beautiful moth, this huge moth… and they only spend a week as this moth. The rest of their life, they’re a caterpillar or they’re in the cocoon. Which in a way, I don’t know, it sounded kinda tragic and romantic to me, you know?

So, I knew I had to let this moth go. She’s gotta go do her thing. She’s only gonna be around for a week. And this is her job now. And I’m calling it a ‘her’ ‘cause I looked it up on the internet, of course. I didn’t know if this made me feel more romantic, ‘cause she was going to have to find a mate and lay hundreds of eggs, so there could be more luna moths. She seemed pretty content on the screen but I decided that the next day I’d let her fly off. So she could do her moth thing.

I also had read that the female luna moth releases a pheromone that attracts the male moth. And this pheromone can attract a male moth up to a mile away. I thought that was pretty impressive. So the moth was on the screen door, just hanging on the screen, right in the bedroom, and I went to bed. She hadn’t moved, she was in the same spot she was. So I left her there and went to sleep.

I woke up in the middle of the night (I had to take a trip to the bathroom). I got up and as I walked past I noticed she was in the same spot. It was a full moon so I could kinda see her in the light, you know. Right in the same spot. Mighty green in the moonlight. And, sure enough, there’s this other giant moth flitting around out there, right outside the screen. So this male moth was flyin’ around somewhere and it picked up those pheromones, and found this lady moth hanging on the screen door. I thought, that’s pretty incredible. He was outside banging around—they aren’t the most graceful flyers—so I opened the screen door a little bit. Just to see what would happen. And he flew in and landed right next to her, shoulder to shoulder. I thought, that’s amazing. And I closed the screen door. And I went back to bed.

When I woke up, I said to your Mom, I said “Luna has a boyfriend.” She was like, “What are you talking about?” I said, “Luna has a boyfriend.” And she looks and sure enough there’s two giant, green moths hanging on the screen door inside the bedroom. You know, they were mating. Making some more luna moths. So I left them there. And I went to school.

 

I think you were home…I think you were home. But I think you missed the wing unfurling. I don’t think you were around for that. But you were home, from school, from Bennington. The next day, the whole next day, around nine, Mom was getting ready for bed. I hear her kinda scream, not like a horrified scream but like a startled scream, and then she said, “One of your moths is FLYING!” And I look, and one of ‘em was flying across the room. Kinda flew across, over the bed, over where Mom was laying, and landed on the opposite wall. And it just stayed there. I went over to look and, based on my research, that was the male and the female was still on the screen.

I had another decision to make—what am I gonna do with them now? I thought, I definitely gotta let the female go, so she could go lay her eggs. The male, he’s done his work. You know, he’s gonna pass away anyway. So I was thinking, we’d keep him. And Rachael could have it for her ‘weird thing’ collection. So in my head I say tomorrow, like tomorrow I’ll let her go, and we both went to bed—one moth, on the screen, the other, on the opposite wall. On each side of the bed. One on my side, one on Mom’s.

Next morning, we wake up—both moths are gone. Don’t know where they are. Can’t find them. I look around. No moths. Where does a giant moth, with a four inch wingspan, hide in a room?

That was the day Rachael stayed home from school—she wasn’t feeling that well. And you were home. I had to go to school. So at lunch time I called home to see if anyone had spotted the moth. I talked to Rachael, and she went up into the bedroom, and she didn’t see anything. When I came home from school, I looked around too.

And then you got home from wherever you were, and you said, “Did you see the moth’s wing by the screen door?” And that freaked me out. Just a wing.

So I went running upstairs and, sure enough, there was the wing. I had missed it. Just laying on the floor. I don’t know whose wing it was—the female’s wing or the male’s wing—and it was kinda bugging me. Why would there be a wing on the floor?

Was there a fight? Would I have noticed if the moths got into a fight? Then I started thinking about our dog. Actually I think Rachael floated the theory that Toby might have eaten the moth, which I wouldn’t put past him. But it’s a big moth and he sleeps at the foot of the bed. I was just thinking, I probably would have heard him, chomping this moth down if he’d done that. I didn’t think that was the case. And I think there would have been more evidence of a chewed up moth.

So no sign of the moth—either moth—until two days after that. I was doing another search, ‘cause it was still bugging me. And I found her! She was on the floor kinda tucked under my guitar case next to the bed. And she was missing a wing, but she was still alive. And I thought, well if she’s down here, then she might’ve laid some eggs. So I’m looking around for eggs—the eggs look like little poppy seeds, only they stick to things. They usually lay ‘em on the underside of leaves. I’m looking around, looking around, and then I lift up the bed skirt. And all along the box spring are eggs. Stuck. Hundreds of them. All just stuck there.

I knew Mom was pretty okay with having a moth in the bedroom, she was pretty okay with having a cocoon in the bedroom, she probably wouldn’t be okay thinking about loads of caterpillars crawling out of those eggs. In the bed, no less. So I took a container, and I scraped all the eggs into it.

And the lady moth, even though it had been two days and she was missing a wing, she was still laying eggs. Still. When she finished laying her eggs, she passed away. Gone. But all the eggs were there. I kept the eggs, on that table next to the bed. And sure enough, a few days later, all these little caterpillars started crawling up the side of the jar.

After some more research, I found out that they eat a kind of leaf that we’ve got in our backyard—sumac, sumac leaves. I got some of those and put ‘em into the jar and the caterpillars started eating these leaves. Just destroying them. So everyday when I came home, I had to put more of those leaves into the jar, and the caterpillars started getting bigger and bigger. When they got up to being about a half an inch long, I had to find another container. I got a big Rubbermaid and put ‘em in there. And as I was transferring them in there, I counted them and there were one hundred and  nine.

These caterpillars. Chomping on these leaves. I was kinda fascinated, watching them. Mom kept asking me, when are you gonna let the caterpillars go, when are you gonna let the caterpillars go?

 

You helped me. We went out to the yard and just sort of placed them on the sumac branches. But I kept twelve in the Rubbermaid. Out of the twelve, a number of them didn’t survive. Four of them got really big. Like two and a half, three inches long. They looked like that caterpillar in A Bug’s Life. What’s his name? I forget. Four of them went into cocoons. Yesterday—and it’s probably been about a month since they went into cocoons—yesterday, the first luna moth hatched. And last night, when I went to bed, it was on the screen door. And this morning, when I woke up, it was gone. So, once again, there’s a luna moth somewhere in the bedroom, and I’ve got no idea where it went.

I don’t know. I don’t know. I was just hoping it would all happen again.

Mary Alice Stewart is recieving her MFA from Bennington College. Her work has appeared in Washington Square Review and Hobart. She is from Maine. Brett Stewart teaches middle school in Maine. He enjoys finding odd things in hidden places.

3 responses to “To Think There Was Something Alive In It or Moth Man”

  1. Diane Salisbury says:

    Awesome story! Both voices come through with pathos and love for all living things.

  2. Sara Glennon says:

    Love the voice here. What a great story of wonder and obsession and mystery. Well done!

  3. Sally says:

    Your great grandpa Barney used to find Luna moths all the time! I remember when there was on our screened window at the farm—second floor…it was beautiful!

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