Saturday, April 10, 2010


"If the sun & moon should doubt,
they'd immediately Go out."

William Blake

In ancient Egypt the sun, or solar ball, was thought to be rolled across the sky by Khepri, a self-created deity, the god of the rising sun. It did its course from east to west ending in darkness and then being recreated by the deity each morning.

The scarab beetle, while performing the very useful task of getting rid of dung, seemed to emulate Khepri when it would roll the excrement, preferably from herbivores, into balls and move it with great determination, regardless of obstacles in its path. The beetle is capable of moving 50 times its own weight, so the size of the ball compared with the beetle can be impressive.

Another connection for the beetle with Khepri and the sun is the idea of resurrection. The beetle lays her eggs in the dung balls she creates and when her eggs hatch they appear to be born spontaneously. Plutarch declared there was no female and after the male injected his semen into the dung the new beetle created itself. The hieroglyphic image of the scarab beetle translates as "to come into being" or "to transform".

The scarab beetles I have drawn are all dung-rollers in the collection of the University of Michigan. The large central black beetle is Scarabaeus sacer, the sacred scarab. The others show how wonderfully colorful and beautiful these insects can be.

The moon is portrayed with a galactic star cluster, four of its phases, American elm leaves, my hand and one of the beautiful wild silk moths, Actias luna. The luna moth lives in deciduous hardwood forests and is one of the largest moths in North America, with a wing span of about 4 1/2 ". Its name may come from the moon-like eye spots on its wings.

There is a story that goes with this image:

When I was out west acting as a cook for a field biology group, I would try to absorb as much science as I could when I wasn't chopping vegetables. I followed students and the instructor when they went out collecting and observing. At night mist-nets (which resemble badminton nets) would be set up over available water sources which lured bats. The bats would become tangled in the nets. Late at night the nets would be checked and bats would be gently removed, identified, examined and released.

One night at the Lytel Ranch in southwest corner of Utah a magnificent moth also got caught. I insisted that it be removed carefully or I might just cut it lose. Dr. Tom Tomasi of Missouri State University spent a very long time extricating the moth. When it was free he put it in my hand and told me now it was my problem.

The moth sat very still.
It was sitting still while all of the bat work was accomplished.
It remained still while we made our journey back to the campsite.

It was clear that I was not going to be able to put on my pajamas or brush my teeth while it remained in my hand. I struggled into my sleeping bag and the two of us lay there for a long time under the beautiful stars, surrounded by desert willows. Eventually I felt the most wonderful sensation. It was as if someone had breathed gently on my hand. The moth had lifted into the night air.

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