Classification Adieu / Chris Kornman

I can't exactly recall how it all started, but I have a record of the end.

"I fear it may be time to say goodbye to the bug collection." - Mom. (email, May 1, 2017.)

For context, that marks roughly 11,000 times the expected lifespan of a mature Mayfly since I began collecting bugs as a curious child.

Among the earliest prizes came from an unlikely gravel parking lot at some half-forgotten historic landmark in western Maryland. A Luna mothpale green scales inset with an ominous eye-like patternslowly pulsed without the force to lift her from the earth. We scooped her up and put her in the cooler with our half-eaten sandwiches to forestall the agitation of incarceration.

And so a gruesome hobby began. Small grasshoppers and skippers in the yard and trophies from trips to local wildlife refuges began to compile into a mini library.

Mom's backyard flower and vegetable garden brimmed with a plethora of potential specimens, the most rewarding of which were the caterpillars. Their food source already apparent, I'd pluck them from their suburban substitute for nature and fatten them to fruition. In their metamorphosis, I learned to distinguish between the moth's cocoon and the butterfly's chrysalis. On their day of maturity they'd enter the freezer, preserved in perfect integrityPolyphemus moths, swallowtail, viceroy, and monarch butterflies.

Dad, with an amateur woodworking skill he'd acquired from his own father, fashioned a case with a sliding glass door and foam-board-backing to pin the empty exoskeletons for display. Cruelly ironic, the bottom of the bug coffin was lined with mothballs and their distinctive ammonia fragrance.

The truncated persistence of ubiquitous winged arthropods seemed unlikely to make the headlines. I'd found a loophole in the axiom "if it bleeds, it leads," or so I thought until I came across articles about the "Windshield Phenomenon," popularized around the same time as my mother censored my collection. Perhaps she was protecting me.

That the insect-death-box endured into my late thirties is a testament to my mother's tendency for stasis. I'd stopped adding to the collection in my tweens.

I mentioned the thing passingly in conversation not long ago, and the cruelty of the practice was immediately apparent as it crossed my lips.

I purport to celebrate the freedom of natural life. And yet a monument to my naive, youthful, antiquarian concept of classification persevered on a shelf in my parents' garage for decades.

Consider the Luna moth, her translucent turquoise veils not unlike those of a phantom specter.

She still haunts my infrequent dreams.