My very dear friend Jessica Jenkins requested for her birthday that her friends send her as birthday gift a text / poem / picture about coronavirus. This was my response.
My offering to you for your birthday request in this time of coronovirus requires a meandering explanation.
The explanation comes with a photo of a moth, a Small Bloodvein, Scopula imitaria found one night in our outside toilet. I have been deliberately leaving the light on for a little while each evening to see which moths flutter in.
The weekend of the 7 / 8th of March was perfect. My friend Dave Grundy came to visit to set up his moth traps, bringing with him his friend Kevin. Dave is a moth expert, we became friends last year after I wrote to him saying that I didn’t know much about moths but that I was curious and interested and did he want to come and visit my friend Stephan and I. To my delight he said yes, he came to stay with us a few times, we set up moth traps and became moth friends. He spent Christmas with my family, we had Christmas morning moths. We made plans to meet again in Spring and this weekend of early March was our first meeting this year.
But really this story of moths starts two years earlier with my dads friend Tim “the Moth Man”. Tim Barker is a graceful long haired beer drinking Yorkshireman, also a moth expert, with the enviable title of the County Durham Moth Recorder. Tim encouraged my curiosity by setting up moth traps for me in my parents garden introducing me to moth world. So perhaps things first started there, sat under the apple tree by a moth trap, moths flying into me in their erratic reaction to the light. I emailed Tim regularly over the years sharing photos of moths I found in Spain and asking him questions. It was through Tim I found Dave on the internet, I saw he came from England to survey moths in Andalucia in Spring. Dave is big on Twitter.
This early March weekend also coincided that my friend Luci and Richard were coming to visit, in their converted UK ambulance home, bright yellow emblazoned with a heart of blue stars and a “Make Love not Brexit” banner hand-painted on the side. I met Luci at my language school when she came to study Spanish and I loved her right away. Her husband Richard is a rocket scientist (really! And sort of..) he is an astrophysics engineer who built satellites and worked on the Mars rover. They had spent a weekend with my family a few weeks earlier before heading on their journey to Rhonda. I had asked Richard to help me build a geodome which I wanted cover in the plant dyed materials I had been making for the past year, which I envisioned as a sort of botanical map of my area. I’d imagined this up a log time before but didn’t have the resources or brain for calculating the angles to make it happen. Richard was like a gift from Mars, he was interested and looking for projects. Everything seemed to be coming together.
But the funny thing with this was that through a strange twist of fate I emailed Richard but wrote his address wrong. I waited for a response and didn’t get one. I was busy with another project but I wondered occasionally why he hadn’t answered. We’d all got on so well and became good friends, when Adam had said goodbye to them at the beach he said it felt like one of those goodbyes where you’ll definitely meet again very soon. So it was odd that they didn’t answer. Then one day I looked back at my emails and realised my error so I sent another message to the correct address, he answered right away and they said they’d come that very weekend. That this happened to coincide with the Dave Grundy moth weekend I’d set up was quite overwhelming. I didn’t mention earlier it was also Carnaval weekend and Martha was parading as a dalmatian. The culmination of all these things made me giddy with excitement, I couldn’t contain myself. It was like I had inadvertently orchestrated a convention of physicists and biologists.
The weekend was perfect. Richard and Luci fell right in with the moth plan and Dave, Kevin and Stephen. We left traps at Stephens house, at my house and at my neighbour Carolines house. Gaona and Rafa, two Spanish moth enthusiasts also came from Los Barrios and La Linea. Gaona is a hardcore rocker, big and dark, covered in tattoos and he loves moths. He has a deaths head hawk moth tattooed on his hand and he’s very sweet. We ate pizza, we set moth traps and looked at moths. I made a nut roast, we played board games and looked at the orchids on Stephens hillside. We saw cream-spot tigers and hebrew characters. I made geodome plans with Richard, we ordered wood. Martha was a dalmatian. It was an idyllic weekend.
I think back to this weekend a lot because corona was there, on the horizon, in our minds, in the news. Bea and Noah had been to Rome mid February on a school trip, it was there in the background looming… but somehow this weekend was like the age of innocence. Pre corona.
Then there was corona. I had seen it coming for such a long time yet still it came as a surprise, like waking up to another world.
Luci and Richard are now on a hillside in Rhonda. We are in contact, they were inspired by the moth weekend and have ordered a UV light and plan to make a DIY moth trap in quarantine. Dave is at CIMA, (Centro Internacional de Migración de Aves) in Tarifa, luckily having arrived there just before the lock down came into place. He was due to be there surveying, he can set his moth traps every night to carry out his surveys and be quite peaceful there. Stephen is his usual hermit like self on his hillside in the next village from me.
Dave, Stephen and I have a WhatsApp group “Santa Lucia Moths” from when we first made our arrangements to meet. We talk daily of moths and quarantine, clove oil, cars, our trips to the outside world, insects and birds. I order the Spanish field guide to moths that Dave had recommended and I ask Dave for moth exams, he sends photos and I try to identify the moths. It is fun and it becomes a daily thing. Stephen orders the book too and together we try to identify the moth photos Dave sends. The lock down moth exam, usually three photos a day. Some days it is difficult and spills over into the next day but I keep a record of the daily moths. It becomes a sort of grounding daily ritual in the corona crisis, like doing a daily crossword. After 19 days I find I am getting better at it, I know where to look in the book, the lines and patterns that distinguish different species.
As this virus pours through the world never before have we been so connected,to witness this take hold on a global scale, humanity looks so delicate. And whilst we see that we are connected we are forced apart with social distancing and isolation. I find myself connected daily to these moth friends. And through this distanced connection to these people there is a growing connection to an other, the moths. As I turn through page upon page of wings, colours, patterns, disruptive, variable, cross referencing with the German moth forum (considered the moth encyclopedia), as I do this I forget momentarily to worry about my parents, or Brazil or India, or think about the tent hospital set up in Central Park, about the virus and the mounting death toll, about the data so well presented on the charts and maps I look at every day.
There are many theories but no one knows why moths are attracted to light. Are they attracted to the moon and fly to light confused? Do they use the moon and stars to orientate? It is a mystery. The fatal lure of the moth to the flame. Moths are in decline, and being an indicator species this has implications for a whole network of other wildlife. Including ourselves. These pollinators, these subtle yet vital others which tell us about the health of our environment. Moths in the time of coronavirus.
So my offering to you is this moth, it isn’t particularly rare or special by moth expert standards, but it turns up in my toilet and I like it. Look there goes a scopula imitaria!