On February 28th, I saw my first plume moth of the year.
The plume moth is an insect native to North America, and it doesn’t look much like a moth. Its wings are generally tightly furled and held straight out from the body, so that the bug resembles the letter T. It’s not a particularly pretty bug… there are no eye-spots or brightly colored underwings. In fact, it is so plain that it can be mistaken for a bit of grass… but adults appear in springtime, so it is one of the species that I keep an eye out for as a herald to winter’s end.
On March 6th, it was so warm that if it weren’t for the rain, I wouldn’t have had to wear a jacket. There was a chinook bringing up winds that whipped the trees around, and tucked behind one of the buildings near Picket Bridge I saw a fruit tree just starting to bloom… just the edges of the petals blushing rosy pink as they opened. These are all also signs of winter’s end. And I am so ready for winter to end.
It’s strange to me that I struggle so much in the winters as an adult, when I grew up in a place with much, much harsher winters. In fact, in Anchorage, there more or less were no bugs in the winter. I had never even seen a flea or a cockroach before I moved to Singapore. With only four hours of daylight in the height of winter, it was a dark time. We went to school in the dark and came home in the dark. The ground was covered in snow for the whole season, and temperatures got as low as negative fifty. Here it’s rare to see temperatures in the teens. So one would think that I’d be inured to Bellingham’s relatively mild winter conditions.
When my father worked for Arco, we used to get tickets on what they called “maintenance flights” from Anchorage to Seattle on Delta Airlines. We would go down and spend a weekend in the Emerald City, see downtown, ride the monorail, check out Pike Place Market. The first time that I remember making one of those trips, we walked out of the airport (as I remember it, we more or less walked to the hotel, wheeling our suitcases behind us), and as we left that climate-controlled enclave, the air felt strange and solid but somehow also soft when it hit my skin. This is what I would later come to know as “humidity.” It felt strangely warm. I remember that there was ivy growing up the sides of buildings and moss growing in every crack. It seemed as though I had stepped through those sliding doors into an alien world. It was almost frightening… and definitely overwhelming.
It’s not that Alaska wasn’t beautiful. It was. But it was a different beauty… stark. The winters were bright, with sunlight and blue skies and white snow. Most of the trees were conifers, so the loss of foliage wasn’t significant in the winter. The sunrises and sunsets in the winter were some of the slowest and most achingly colorful in my memory… they were rosy and golden and they looked like no other sunset or sunrise has looked anywhere I’ve been, except for the rare times in Bellingham when it gets down into the twenties or teens. Sometimes, it would be below zero, and the moisture would freeze right in the air and as the sun rose over those mountains the very air would sparkle with suspended flakes of ice. It was like a wonderland.
But down here, in northwest Washington, everything is a teeming crush of life and wetness and mud. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here, but all the trees drop their leaves in the winter and everything become grey and brown, for what seems like six months at a time. When spring finally comes, it comes in a riot. The flowers come first… crocus and hyacinth and narcissus, and then the cherry and plum and apple trees, and sometimes we have entire streets lined with pink and white flowers. The petals fall, and there are so many that they drift in the gutters like snow. Then the leaves come, first that tender bright green and then on to more emerald hues as they mature. The sun comes out for the summer, and the blue lakes glitter and the creek turns green, and everything glows and sparkles with life. And I suck up the color like a starving man, staring at all of it as if I’d never seen it before. It’s a relief, that color… that riot.
And every year, when it gets to be around this time, I can’t wait for the riot. The moisture in the air here and the constant rain sucks the last of the warmth from you, and the short days are painted grey, and I can’t wait to take off some of these layers; to feel the kiss of the sun and the wind on my skin, and to drink my fill of the colors. To shed my skin and be born again, here in the shadow of the mountain.