The Nature of Things

The Moth

An unexpected wink from the cosmos


By Ashley Wahl

Has nature ever stopped you in your tracks? I mean, in such a way that you’re sure you’re receiving a direct message?

The other day, Alan surprised me after work by suggesting that we take an evening hike. Although we typically save woodland treks for spacious weekends, I couldn’t say no to spontaneous adventure. We leashed up the dog and took off for one of our favorite local nature trails.

Beneath a canopy of hardwoods, cool and growing darker with each step, the final thrum of summer enveloped us. Chorus frogs shrieked beyond the nearby marsh and cicadas clicked in unison, their deafening trills like the steady, mechanical breath of the forest.

With our wedding just a few weeks away, we were sharing our excitement, our hopes and our curiosity about where life might guide us next. We also shared our fears — mostly imagined scenarios we had no way of controlling anyhow.

What kind of future would we like to create? And given our divided world and the deep uncertainty of our collective future, is the life we envision even possible?

We were getting ahead of ourselves — a very human thing to do — until we remembered to slow down and return to the present moment. Our breath. Our footsteps on the earth. The golden leaves scattered across the forest floor.

It started to feel pretty good — and better and better with each step.

Basking in blissful silence, we came upon our favorite stretch of the trail, a fern carpeted clearing that looks like a page from a fairy tale. I happened to gaze out across the glade and, despite the fading light, noticed what resembled two large, green leaves arranged like wings on a distant tree trunk. 

How, I wondered, could those leaves be positioned so perfectly that they looked — from over 30 yards away — like some kind of giant, mystical butterfly?

“Hold Durga,” I said, passing the leash to Alan.

Making my way toward the tree, I realized that I was, in fact, approaching a luna moth, which might have fit in my palms if I held them side by side. Slowing down for fear of spooking it, I stopped a few feet away to admire the luna’s ghostly white body and bewitching sea-foam wings from afar. I’d never actually seen a real one.

Those of you who have never been in the presence of one of these nocturnal beauties may think I’m overreacting. It’s just a moth, after all. But if you, too, have been close enough to study the intricate eyespots on this giant silk moth’s pixie-like wings, then you likely understand how this sighting felt like a wink from the Universe.

Because they only live for one week in their winged form, the luna moth is considered a symbol of transformation and transience — a silent reminder to fully embrace the present moment.

How perfect, I thought, turning back toward the trail. 

“If we were looking for some kind of sign,” I said to Alan, “I’d say we found one.”

As if part of a cosmic script, a downy white feather appeared on the earth between us. We picked it up, studying its soft fringe in the last blush of muted light.

Suddenly, laughter swelled from the darkening forest. Owls, we realized. The dog furrowed her brow, and as we walked — a bit faster now — we, too, started laughing.   OH

Contact editor Ashley Wahl at

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