Lifted by a dragonfly

After I fell off my bike and cracked my left big toe, I had to stay out of the forest and meadow until poor toe healed. I'd lost a piece of May, my favorite month. Frustrating. It could have been worse; but still....

I retreated to the bottom step of my back porch, a singularly peaceful place where I often settle after breakfast. I suspect that part of my pleasure in step-sitting is derived from a memory from earliest childhood when I was too small for adult chairs, when my parents did all the heavy worrying and I just sat in the sunshine. One side of my porch faces the flower garden with its forest background, one side a leafy wall of lilacs in bloom.

Thus seated, early one morning, I looked outward.

Immediately, I heard a small clicking sound coming from an adjacent lilac bush. I had heard it before, but had never been able to see who was there. Possibly a tiny bird, like a wren; but it didn't sing the wren's song. I kept looking and finally caught a glimpse of a bright-orange bill and a touch of beige feather. Ha! A female cardinal peeking through a small hole in the many layers of lilac. What a small noise from such a fair-sized bird! They usually have a hearty voice. Maybe she didn't want to wake up her babies? Maybe the click came from a chick?

Just beyond the lilacs is a four-year-old poplar; its leaves were spinning in a gentle breeze and making a small clittery-clattery sound as leaves clapped together. Suddenly, Mr. Cardinal flew in from the forest and landed on a branch only five feet away from me. We looked at each other for several minutes. I did not move. Reassured that I was harmless, he flew off.

I gazed out at the weedy garden and the shaggy lawn in bloom with dandelions and white violets. Even if I'd been able to walk easily, I still wouldn't have had the heart to behead my wildflower lawn. A large yellow butterfly with black trim cruised over the flowers. Hummingbirds were still sleeping.

I looked down at my left foot and was surprised to see a dragonfly sitting on the toe of my slipper. I wondered how long it had been there. "Some nerve," I thought. But I have always admired dragonflies with their transparent wings and beautiful colors. I hoped it wouldn't fly away. I held still, scarcely dared blink.

Suddenly, it flew straight up in the air. A few seconds later it returned, swooping back into my line of sight. I couldn't see how high up it went, because I dared not move my head. To my surprise, it came back and landed - not on the slipper, but on my bare ankle. It stayed there for about a minute then flew up again, curved around and came back to rest on my leg, about three inches farther up from where it had taken off. It continued this behavior four or five more times, each time landing a little closer to my knee.

Finally, it made it all the way to my knee. Delightful!

What a wonderful creature! Like a billionaire's private plane in overall design. Landing gear: up front, consisting of six thin jet-black legs in two parts with knee joints. Feet: tiny hooks for holding tight to blades of grass so it doesn't blow away in a high wind. Wings: not just two, but four well-shaped, semitransparent wings reinforced with jet-black thread, thin as spider webbing and probably as strong. A large black spot on each wing maybe served as camouflage. Body: long, segmented, a bit fat; pale blue color making a good contrast with the shiny black legs and fancy wings. Kids would say: "Cool."

Airplanes are fueled by a liquid that comes from deep in the earth, but my dragonfly was catching his fuel right out of the sky. So that's what he was up to - tiny buglets for breakfast! As he sat on my knee, he swiveled his head around all the time, looking for prey with his big black multilensed eyes. When he spotted some wee flying morsel, he leaped straight up in the air in a motion almost too quick to see. When he caught something, he came down and munched. I could see his jaws sawing away.

He had been standing up all the time, but after awhile I guess he got tired. He folded his six legs and put his head down. I, too, got tired; but from sitting motionless. As slowly as I could, I started to move one hand to get up. Instantly, the dragonfly flew past my left ear. I could hear his high-speed wings for a split second as he buzzed off.

Shakespeare was right when he said "Sweet are the uses of adversity."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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