The “Fire Dancer” Sphinx Moth
For the earlier dwellers at the Oasis the long winter nights were a time to tell stories. These stories show a keen ability to observe and translate natural phenomena into memorable lessons—in the following case the behavior and yearly appearance and disappearance of certain winged nightlife.
Moth, the Fire Dancer A Piute story
Long ago, Moth had black wings. He was a great dancer as he flew and he loved to dance around people’s fires. The people would watch him as he danced and the young women would laugh as he dove and fluttered and circled. They would try to catch him and dance with him, but he would always escape them.
“Be careful,” his father told him, “do not dance too close to the fire.” But moth did not listen to his father. He liked to dance and flirt with the young women while the fires burned bright. He danced this way all through the spring and the summer.
One night, near the end of summer, Moth came to dance around the fire. The young women laughed as he danced and he danced even harder, coming closer and closer to the flames. He dove down wildly and flapped up again and the young women tried to dance with him.
“You cannot catch me,” he said. “I am Moth. I am the greatest dancer of all!” But as he bragged he flew too close to the flame. The fire caught him and he spun down onto the coals with burned wings. It seemed as if he was dead.
His father had been watching from the shadows. He flew down and carried his son away into the forest. He put medicine on his son’s burned wings and wrapped him up in a gray blanket and hid him in the bushes.
Throughout the winter, the people talked in their lodges about Moth, the dancer. The young women were sad as they thought of how he had been killed by the flames. They would miss his dancing around their fires at night. They would miss playing with him as he dove and circled. At last the winter was gone and the days began to grow longer. One night, not long after the Moon of New Grass, the people sat around a fire late at night. All was quiet when suddenly, out of the night, came the flash of wings.
Then with wings as bright as the red of flames, someone was dancing around the fire, dancing as Moth had danced.
“Who is it?” the people asked.
“He dances the way Moth danced,” said the young women. “Moth has come back, but his wings now are filled with flame!”
And so it was. Wrapped in his gray blanket, Moth’s burns had healed and he had come back to dance once more with the people. But now his wings were no longer black. They were gray as a blanket above and as red as sparkling flames below.
“We can no longer just call him Moth,” the people said. “He must have a new name. We will call him The Fire Dancer.” And that has been his name to this day.
Now is the time for the Fire Dancer, our Sphinx Moth, to be out pollinating the large, white, night-blooming Datura flowers. There is a plan growing against the garden fence. The flowers begin opening around dusk and the moths arrive thereafter to hover while unfurling their long tongues down to drink the nectar. In the process pollen is transferred before a new load is picked up.
Datura Flower beside garden
~ Pat Flanagan