We almost missed it altogether.
We were walking a shadowy path, a straight shot really, through a grove of white pine trees whose lower limbs were denuded of needles that had long fallen to lie thick as pile carpet beneath our feet. Above the canopy, the day brewed hot and severe. Here all was muffled. Still. Cast in ferrous red hues of blown-out needles and quietude.
My husband asked, “What is that?”
He was pointing to a crusty-looking lichen near the base of a pine. Or maybe it wasn’t a lichen. It was moving, beginning to pulse a bit, and it spread wide open to stare us down with two white-rimmed eyes.
But the eyes weren’t eyes. They were black orbs floating on a field of gray etched with carnelian, stretched thin and rich as a native tapestry the size of my hand.
We were transfixed. Dramatically, the moth was crowned by a thatch of ruddy orange hair, and feathery antennae extended on slender filaments above a milky white body striped round with red rings bold as a sports jersey. The creature leaned into the tree and seemed uninclined to leave.
It was behemoth in size. It wafted its wings as we drew close to take photos, unfazed by unexpected company. It simply stayed in place. Perhaps it was resting. Or waiting for a mate, or the right breeze to take flight. We observed it for some time, reluctant to leave because we were enrapt in mystery.
Once home from our walk, we searched the internet and found images and information about the beautiful Hyalophora cecropia, or cecropia moth, first described by Swedish botanist-zoologist Carl Linneaeu in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae (1758). Five days to two weeks is their lifespan. They have no mouths or digestive systems. They live to mate. That we had stumbled upon one is truly remarkable; one website said “Consider yourself lucky” if you encounter a cecropia by chance.
That such beauty exists for such a fleeting period of time is truly astounding. That my husband had noticed it at all, considering its location and camouflage, was likewise incredible. That we were able to marvel at it for long quiet minutes was yet another gift. The largest moth in North America opened itself up to us, and gratefully, we witnessed its beauty because one of us paused, looked, and looked some more.
How often do I miss unexpected opportunities to marvel? My eyes are often restless, focusing on things distant rather than near. Or I forget to take in my surroundings in my quick march to some pressing goal. And temptations abound—to dwell on the ugly more than the beautiful, or to habitually check my ever-present iPhone.
How often do I praise God for making seemingly small things beautiful, like sparrows, and lilies, and grasses that are here today and gone tomorrow? God’s profligate creativity, the explosive fringe of the peony, the iridescent blue of the migrating indigo bunting, the stark white brows of the cecropia’s fake eyes—these are the stuff of wonder.
It is so easy to be impressed by the epic or grand, or distracted by the disastrous or absurd. It is so commonplace to walk with our heads bent groundward, so focused on our feet or phone we speed past and over wonders all around us. This very habit denies us joy. We forsake the opportunity to gasp in awe, to breathe praise into the tempest of our world.
A moth has whetted my appetite for wonder. A short-lived invertebrate of dazzling design has evoked me to awe. Now I hold up my hand, and so holding see the seven-inch breadth of the cecropia’s unfurled wings.
It takes discipline to look, and sometimes a bit of luck to see, the wild and elusive gifts tucked in a world fraught with trouble. Sharing what we notice, calling another to our side so we can together rejoice, multiplies the blessing of wonder. Let us take more walks together. Let us pause often. Let us search for more reasons to delight in all things visible and invisible.
And let us pray for eyes to see God’s bounteous works. For on the sixth day God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind…God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind.” God made the cecropia moth, whose life is short and beauty exquisite. “And God said, It is good.” (Genesis 1:24-25)