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Saturday, Oct. 15, 2005 - 4:54 a.m.

In the month of September every year, several million moths make their thousand-year old flight from Queensland to the cooler highlands of the Blue Mountains. There, they will rest and then die. It is a frightening experience for the eyewitness, who is stared back with the millions of uncloseable eyes on their wings. Each moth has an individual line of flight, a continuous thread made up of gentle and harsh curves, tracing the five hundred kilometre journey. Imagine the sum of interweaving threads that a million moths make, an aggregation that is still thin, in comparison to the antecedent threads that have accumulated in the same corridor of air for a thousand years.

The moths take flight in the evenings, and invade the cities along their passage. They are drawn towards light. In 1955, moths filled the lift wells of the Electricity Building and caused lifts to stall. Thirty years later, moths chased MPs and Ministers out of the newly opened Parliament House. A new immigrant to Sydney watches the moths sail overhead, filling the rectangles of open sky between blocks of office buildings. She is a Chinese woman, forty-ish, who came because her sister obtained Australian citizenship. The woman ran a grocery stall in Hong Kong, and is not used to the traditions of her new country. She watches the sky, and remembers something that her mother told her when she was young: each moth is the soul of a newly dead person. It appears next to the coffin and takes to the sky, ascending into unknown heavens.

Before the arrival of the Europeans, the Aboriginal Australians would follow the migration of the moths. They would snatch the moths out of the air and eat them, their tongues and teeth stained yellow with broken bodies and tattered fragments of wings. Once upon a time, before hunger made them lose their visions, they believed that moths carried dreams from person to person. The pair of eyes on each moth was unique, meaning that each moth carried a different dream. Once upon a time, they believed this and watched the flight of a million moths in the dusk sky, before falling asleep in fear. What dreams still visit them tonight?

Then there is the wind. The moths are light and fragile, constantly at its mercy. Many have been blown off-course, never reaching their destination caves in the Blue Mountains. These have found themselves suddenly over open water, and then in New Zealand or Fiji. Their trembling legs perch on the beaches of these strange lands, and they die at these new places, exhausted and confused.

Deep inside the caves of the Blue Mountains, other moths finally end their journey. They attach to whatever free space there is on the walls and ceilings of the caves, their wings brushing against other wings. The darkness moves because the air, alive with the beat of a million wings, moves. The wings oscillate gently in the darkness, some in patches of synchronized simple harmonic motion. When a moth has used up all its energy, it dies, and then falls. It tumbles through the darkness in its final flight, and air rushes past the uncloseable eyes. It lands on top of a heap of hollowed moth carcasses, just as another moth dies and falls. It rains inside the cave, but it is a fall of wings and not of water. Breathe quietly and tread softly, for underfoot is the ascending shape of someone's soul or the jagged fear of someone's dream.


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