This is My Mind on Moths
At last I had arrived. Nighttime jungle shrouded the road winding up from the highway towards the spires of Kinabalu. As I walked, my torchlight found masses of leaves overhead, grayly illuminated, swaying in the storm's gusts. Bright lights appeared ahead of me through a sinuous veil of tree ferns.
I was unprepared. I was not expecting moths. Moths were not part of my plan.
Nonetheless, slack-jawed, sweating in the dark, looking up at the wall of the lodge, I found myself confronted.
The side of the building was covered in ten thousand powder-scaled bodies, twitching, occasionally leaping into quivering flight. More moths than I had ever seen in my life.
This one swoop-angled like some arcane farm implement. That one seemingly overwhelmed by a yellow mold. He of bloody slashes and reticulate diamonds. She enormous, edge-dissected.
I began to take pictures. For the sake of efficiency, I ignored the undoubtedly far more diverse hordes of small and brown representatives, and focused only on the most visually thrilling.
I am no wizardic practitioner of biological investigation. The halls of academia are populated by minds who will no doubt skim this screed with concern and perhaps some pity. But I read their works, a ruffian crouching outside the office door, hungry for pages – and so I've become at least familiar with the sundry patterns of morphological phenomena. I'm not afraid of the jargon, fluent enough in the classic answers to bewilderment: I've learned to point to Inconceivable Expanses of Time, to Incremental Change, to Sexual Selection, to Randomness, Mimicry, Aposematism. Certainly, I am rooted (however shallowly) in the intellectual traditions of ecology and evolution.
But this multitude of winged astonishments was a hard yank, an attempted deracination. A strong test of my ability to situate the diversity of biological forms in the context of physical processes. This assembly of fantastic-looking moths precipitated, however momentarily, a feeling that divine creation might be the only feasible source of the multiplicity.
The tension between these paradigms brought hitherto-unfelt possibilities to life – Perhaps the moths are stuck between the explanatory factions of divinity and deduction...
I can imagine the moths, scrawled in their thousands on the side of the building, to be the desperate graffiti of a God lashing out. Feeling his hold on human minds waning, vandalizing the walls with these dusty, animate glyphs of protest; each one a frenzied effort to create irreducible bafflement, trying for at least one creature firmly beyond explanation. All the while knowing that despite his virtuosic hypergraphia, these dust-winged challenges to earthbound intelligence will likely come to be understood without need for appeal to his penmanship.
Behold Baorisa hieroglyphica: its mortal-given name rhymes with the feeling that it incites in me – that this must be one among God's million cuneiform provocations, another gauntlet thrown.
When at last, exhausted, definitively stripped of that capital G, god finally fugues his way to the top of Kinabalu and drops acid, it will be a kaleidoscopia of moths that surrounds him. They were favored creations. Amen.
Maurer found in Garcia Lorca's vision of duende: "irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death... and a dash of the diabolical". This is the kind of god I see in my fitful dreams after a night among the moths: a scorned deity mumbling under his breath "I am not above vindictiveness..."
A god sweating in the heat and glow of the mothforge, pounding frantically on an anvil from which lepidoptera pour in erratic flights, each one a confrontational caltrop to litter our explanatory highway. Each one a small barrier to hold off the encroachment of reason. With each one produced, god further realizing the futility of the gesture, realizing his own lack of divinity. All along, he and his process were as landlocked and earthy and perishable as his works... selfsame all along.
I dream of magic and reason and god and science and capitalism and duende and a depauperate globe and seething biodiversity all woven in a paradoxic, mutually devouring, co-constituting knot. Gordian Ouroboros Cobbler at once.
A moth is to light as my mind is to moths. They circle and circle, getting too near the hot bulb; my mind orbits them, thoughts churning feebly to understand the evidence and falling short. We engage in parallel anticentrifugal fluttering, all of us scorched for hours until sunrise.
To see a full picture of the moths I photographed on Mount Kinabalu, click here.