There is a lovely little, inch-long, brownish-gray moth here in Colorado commonly known as the Miller. It’s an interesting moniker, so I am told, coming from its dusty cloak that reminded yesteryear people of a miller covered with flour dust.
A couple times per year in mid-year months, Miller moths seem ubiquitous here on the Front Range -- once in the late spring when the adult migrates up to the mountains from the plains, following elevation gain to the later blooms of the kinds of wildflowers it likes, and then once again down from the mountains and foothills and back to the plains in the early fall to lay its eggs and die. The moths seem abundant due to their attraction to light, drawn to street lights and gas station overhangs, to the glow behind a garage door on its way open, or hovering around the windows and windowed doors of a house, ready to come in uninvited, two or three or more at a time, at which moment they normally fly clumsily for a lampshade or for the highest point in a room.
Once in, they’re not hard to catch. One can even snatch them midair if they can be nabbed before parking themselves on the ceiling. In that event, a well-aimed sock gives another chance for their capture. Invariably, if Gail and I are away from home for more than a few days during their migrations, we’ll return to find several that have suffered expiration on the living room carpet. How they got in is unknown.
Curiously, in spite of their diminutive size, Millers can be an important food source for, of all things, grizzly bears, who prize the moths’ fat content in preparation for hibernation.
I have a pastor friend who found his church’s auditorium infested with several dozen of them early one summer Sunday morning. In his opening welcome he jibed, “We want to give a warm welcome to the Miller family attending en masse today…” Few caught the crack, many looking around to see who he had been referring to. Some never did get it. I thought it hilarious.
There is a strange and problematic habit Millers have, though, that I just cannot figure out. I lit a campfire tonight in my backyard, and as the flame caught and roared its opening blaze, one after the other flew into the small inferno and perished. I stepped back and watched the scene with astonishment. It had been a while since I had had a campfire during a Miller migration.
What glitch has there been in this little creature’s evolutionary development that might lead it to do this? One would think that through the eons it would have learned to sense heat before casting itself headlong into the flame. In fact, I can think of no other organism in the animal kingdom that will run intentionally and recklessly toward its own demise, perhaps save man. Even the proverbial overpopulated lemming casting itself into the sea is a myth. Now, granted, moth brains cannot be very substantial, but is there not some powerful instinct in every creature for survival, for the capacity to endure, to persist, to last, to live? I don’t get it.
Yes, the only other creature that can display this destructive propensity is a human being. We often race toward things that can destroy us.
The Bible says that “…the wages of sin is death…,” a pretty costly price for what usually amounts to a bauble. And yet we run headlong toward it. What is sin’s ultimate attraction anyway? Now, I am not inferring that we, like the Miller hurtling toward the flame, are running eagerly toward the fires of hell; thankfully, there are lots of ways God can use to redeem us from our tendencies to self-destruction before it’s too late. I guess I am more inferring my confusion that we run away from the possibility of vibrant life to something hurtful, something far from life-giving in the end. I don’t get it.
Perhaps God doesn’t either.
I came across an old prayer recently: “Lord, grant me the fullness of your grace, that I, running to your promises, may become a partaker of your treasure.”
Now that’s something worth pursuing.
~~RGM, Adapted from a 2012 Entry
in my Leather Nature Journal