Woolgathering

Late summer pondering with a curious eight-year-old.

A moth settled between two blades of grass. On either side of it, the green strips towered, creating a cave-like refuge from the gentle summer breeze. It was evening. The muted remains of the summer sun’s touch lingered throughout the garden and on the pavement that skirted it. More moths fluttered into the grass soon after, some choosing to skip between dandelions above the surface of the ocean of grass. Those that knew better huddled low, only breaching to cool off and look for drops of dew to sip on.

Unfortunately for the moths, their hiding places didn’t really matter. The same went for the roly-poly bugs that crowded under wooden crates and clay pots in the mulch, and the centipedes that pursued them. This was also true for the ladybugs that sought out aphids on sweaty afternoons, and the occasional butterfly that hovered above the ants on the deck and below the wasps that buzzed from within their hidden, slowly growing nests. None of them were any match for Dara and her new bug catching kit.

The moths were the easy evening target. Just before dinner, Dara would reach into the bottom shelf of the pantry to retrieve several plastic sandwich baggies and a pack of fruit snacks. Knowing her parents would be proud to hear it, she’d proclaim that she’d be playing outside until dinnertime. After hearing the distant “okay,” she’d slide open the screen doors of the deck and march barefoot into the damp, cool, evening grass.

Though her actions sound malicious, she never saw them that way. A deep curiosity consumed her, which when fuelled with the inspiration of professional wildlife experts on nature shows, turned her into a sort of field scientist. She’d mutter to herself about the things she saw, the discoveries being made.

“So, Dara,” she asked herself out loud, “where are we?”

“I know this seems boring, but we’re in a garden. Last episode we were out in the woods looking for dangerous snakes, but today I want to show you some of the things you can see in your own backyard.”

As she spoke, her eyes scanned the grass for the small hop of a grey moth. There were a few on the move, but one in particular caught her eye. It was close, maybe five steps away. It had landed in the grass and not budged since.

“The key to catching a moth is to watch them very closely. They’re not very fast, but they’re small and good at hiding. You just have to be quiet, move slowly, and focus.” Her voice had come down to a whisper and she had crouched down to begin her tiptoe approach towards the moth. The whole backyard was silent, as if all the crickets were holding their breath, watching.

She took one step in towards her target; making almost no noise as the grass padded her footfall. Another step in and she too was unconsciously holding her breath.

The moth flapped its wings a little but didn’t leave its spot.

Dara took another step closer. She could see it more clearly now. It couldn’t have been larger than her eye. It crawled a little to the left and then paused.

Dara began her slow descent, bending at the knee, lowering her upper body so she could come close enough to make eye contact with her subject. As if preprogrammed to do so, her arms extended, a cupped hand ready on either end, ready to encapsulate the moth. She began to shorten the distance between her palms and brought her hands closer together as quietly and slowly as possible. Her eyes never left the moth for more than a split second.

It turned to look at her and crouched, as if ready to take off. A bead of sweat at her temple, Dara smiled at it as her hands swallowed it up. She kept them together and lifted the fleshy cage off the grass and close to her face. She imagined that the moth would need a second to calm down, so she walked back to the steps of the deck and counted to ten. She then meticulously turned her hands so one was clearly the lid and the other the container. Lifting the lid, she looked down at the fuzzy, grey creature nestled between the closed spaces between her fingers. It perked up, alert, and crawled over the middle of her palm. It hopped a little when she brought her finger near it, and then pattered back towards her fingers.

“Dara, you’ve discovered a new species, we’ve never seen anything like it,” she whispered excitedly.

“Yes, yes, I want to name it after something grey, because it has such a beautiful grey fur coat.”

She squinted down at it, as if it would tell her its name, and then sat up straight to think.

Keeping the hand with the moth steady, she reached for one of the plastic bags she’d had shoved in her pocket and opened it up, nudging the moth in.

While sealing the bag, she took care not to close it all the way. Her mother said the reason the last one stopped moving was because it couldn’t breathe. She didn’t want this one to stop moving too, not that it was very active to begin with.

“It doesn’t really move, and I think it likes people — it’s like a bunny or a cat.” Her index finger lifted to her chin, and she smiled at a camera that only she could see. “The scientific name for cat is feline. I think we’ll call it feline fuzzy moth. FFM for short.”

“Brilliant, Dara. We’ll alert the academy.”

As to which academy she was talking about, she had no idea.

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Apeksha Atal

Apeksha Atal

Trying to make sense of the world, one word at a time