Butterflies of Night
She spread an old tablecloth on the ground between two rows of soybean plants. It was May, and the the plants were waist-high by now. She squatted, and bent an armful of plants from each row toward the center. Slapping the bent plants with a practiced rhythm, she heard insects she'd knocked loose thump on the tablecloth. When the thumping ended, she knew that most had been dislodged. She released the plants and pulled a notepad and pencil from the back pocket of her khakis.
One at a time, she began picking up the caterpillars for identification. “Soybean looper,” she said, making a hash mark in the grid on her notepad before casting the looper aside. “Velvetbean caterpillar...”
The green caterpillars were soft and squirming, somehow exerting a juvenile charm. She paused, thinking of their mothers: moths. “Gray butterflies of night,” she thought. Momentarily, she flashed into a fantasy of wearing a black iridescent gown, moving with weightless grace among resplendent, courting males. Slipping deeper into the sensual mood, she imagined choosing a male for an ecstatic coupling in flight. “You mating like a moth?” she asked herself incredulously, shaking her head.
She pocketed her notepad, shook the tablecloth and folded it. She would tally the results from her five samples, but already she knew the number of caterpillars was serious. Organic edamame was her cash crop, and without enough leaves the plants could not produce pods. Looked around and listening, she heard a steady hum of wasps hunting caterpillars in the field , and she noted other beneficial insects, too. If she had to use the biocontrol spray, a bacteria that killed the caterpillars but was harmless to humans, all these helper insects would disappear too. But moths would keep coming. Then she would have to depend solely on spraying. It was a difficult decision.
Walking back towards the cabin, she noticed something white protruding from the soil, exposed by recent rain. She picked it up. A shard of pottery, perhaps hundreds of years old. On the convex side she felt a faint incised pattern. She stood for a long while, imagining the woman who had made and used this pottery, here in this same place. A sister from another time and culture.
You lived with so many perils, storms and snakes and sickness and enemies,” she whispered to the shard, or maybe through it. When she walked on on, she imagined the other, walking the same soil. Planting seeds, watering sprouts, and counting the larvae of the moths.
words: Steve Wing, Florida (about & more)
images: 'bug collage 3; 4', Ira Joel Haber,
New York (online gallery)
another field day: The Beginning. (#21)