Tuesday, October 2, 2007


When I was about 12 I once wandered through a red maple thicket near our house. I had cut several smaller trees the year before, to make walking sticks. The resulting gap let in one golden shaft of sunshine. In that incandescent space, in the middle of the green gloom of mid-summer, was a tall plant with pink mop-topped flowers. I later looked it up and found it was wild bergamot. The pink glowed in the sunlight. I was drawn towards it from across the thicket. As I approached I saw that the flowers were full of bees. Then a hummingbird-like creature flew up and began to hover in the blossoms. I stood transfixed, hardly daring to breathe. It was coal black with rusty wings and a yellow underside. It was soon joined by another, which was salmon pink, with black and yellow wings. On other visits I would find red ones, brown ones, silvery cream colored specimens.

They reminded me of the variety of colors I found, as a very small child, on fallen white oak galls. I used to search the lawn every morning for the little velvety balls and line them up in the cracks of our picnic table. (At one point I had over a hundred - a tough counting job for a 5 year old.) They were every warm furry hue imaginable, from umbers through reds and oranges to cream.

I looked the creatures up, eventually. They were hawk moths, a type of sphynx moth. We plant flowers for hummingbirds here in NC, and we get a profusion of these sphingids, as well. I'm amazed that two creatures arrived at this same bizarre form of flight, starting from branches of the evolutionary tree that split over 200 million years ago (vertebrates and insects). Different means of moving the wings, different materials, different mouth and tongue structures, one warm blooded and the other cold blooded, one with skeleton inside and the other outside... In the flower beds we see them come and go, ignoring each other completely. Both captivate me.
Photo above is from Wikipedia article (link above). The flower in this photo is lavendar. Here is a photo of bergamot.

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