Wednesday, March 28, 2007

At the window


We have no glass in our windows here. Only wooden louvres, with screens on the inside. Animals love the spaces under the louvres, and we watch them there as if in cases at the zoo. Here is the night-flying giant bat moth (Noctuidae), that gets its name from the way it dips and dives like a bat. Here on the island they are called money bats, because of the intricate scriptlike designs on their their wings.

We see them everywhere, brushing the stars with their big dusty wings. They flutter overhead while we eat at Big D's outdoor restaurant. They perch on the rims of our wine glasses as we sit on the terrace with friends, attracted by the scent of sweet white wine.

In nearby Cuba, they are known as brujas, "witches." Throughout the islands they were thought to be embodied spirits of the dead. It is not hard to imagine them as miniature human corpses sporting death's dark wings.

We have, it seems, a fierce attraction to the world of spirits -- spooks, angels, poltergeists, disembodied souls, out-of-body experiences. We inherit the spirit world from a time when our ancestors huddled in dark shelters at night and let their imaginations draw up creatures more or less like ourselves but lacking corporeal substance. Maybe bat moths were part of their inspiration.

But why should I care about disembodied spirits when I can watch a giant bat moth flex its moire wings against the window screen? Why should I look for treasure in heaven when a pair of arthropodal eyes glow at my kitchen window like tiny rubies? Why should I wish for out-of-body experiences when it is my body that connects me through the five open windows of my senses to the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and tactile sensations of the tropic night.