#22 my Re-Enchantment Story

I took these photos of spreadwings on a rope hanging from a massive cottonwood tree at the town pond this time last year. Terry and Louis, our son from Rwanda, and I were there having a picnic. They were the only dragonflies I saw that day, and the last of the year. Technically, spreadwings are of the suborder, Zygoptera(damselflies). This and Anisoptera (dragonflies) are the two suborders of the order Odonata which with butterflies, bees, mosquitos and a dozen other orders, make up Insecta, a key branch on the Tree of Life. With their big blue eyes and slender abdomens, spreadwings do seem more like damselflies than dragonflies. Except that they don’t perch with their wings closed, paralleled back along their abdomens, the main trait differentiating damselflies and dragonflies. Instead, they hold their wings spread out, relaxed, but not perpendicular or angled forward like Anisoptera. To me they seem to occupy their own suborder. These can only be Great Spreadwings (Archilestes grandis) because they are a) indeed ‘great’, b) larger by far than any other spreadwing or damselfly species at 60 mm in length; and c) known to be common in southeastern Utah this time of year. I’d only ever seen them late like this, and only hanging from low lying willows, never from a rope. Although I didn’t see them fly that day, my impression is that they are more gangly in flight, not as precise as other Odonates.
At the pond yesterday, there were no spreadwings. Due perhaps to the short but intense thunderstorm, there were no insects or birds. I thought back to last year. I’d photographed the spreadwings on the rope and we’d relaxed and began to snack, when Louis screamed ‘snake’. I’m not kidding, he shrieked, shattering the silence.He thought he saw a snake in the water. Having grown up in Rwanda where snakes kill people, instinctually responding to one is a survival mechanism. Humans have always encountered poisonous snakes and respond instinctually to them. Humans have always encountered dragonflies and respond instinctually to them. The difference may be that a life-saving instinct is stronger. I’m trying to figure this out.

#21 My Re-enchantment Story


Photo: This dragonfly—an unfamiliar meadowhawk, I think—was caught in a spider web on the fence lining the elevated walkway running through Tuckahoe Creek Park in Henrico, Virginia, near where our son, Louis Gakumba, lives with his kiddos, Malka and Sheja (age 6 and 4). I thought the dragonfly was dead until I pulled it from the spider web (I didn’t see a spider and the web was disheveled and seemed to be no longer in use.) The dragonfly started moving in my hand, struggling to free itself from the silk strands. Its damaged wings were stuck together and once I was able to pull them apart, it began moving around as if it might fly off. I placed it on the top of a post and watched it for a few minutes as it frantically tried to clear the web strands from its eyes. I left it there and when we came back 30 minutes later, it was gone. Either it flew off or fell into the creek. This is a spectacular and wild place. Besides hearing (according to our Merlin App) 27 bird species (including a barred owl and many red-shouldered hawks, seeing a pileated wood pecker and great egret, we saw numerous mushrooms (definitely some Destroying Angels—Amanita–I call all the ghostly white Amanitas “Destroying Angels, although I think only one actual species has that as a common name), and some perfect orbed webs, one with a small spider centered in it.  I made notes on five different dragonflies I saw. 1) large darner, blue green eyes, dark abdomen; 2) smaller with green thorax and green and brown abdomen; 3) skimmer (?) with black head and eyes, purplish abdomen; 4) skimmer with blue eyes, pruinose abdomen, perhaps a blue dasher.  I’ll look them up later.

#19 My Re-enchantment story


Photo: My friend, @kelindquist thinks this might be a female blue dasher.

A few days ago, before breakfast with friends, I wandered out into their field. In my dragonfly trance, I found myself gravitating toward the pond in the distance. Had I not been there before, I might not have known there was a pond behind the thick wall of new growth from an entire summer of rain.  That I couldn’t immediately find the entrance to the dock I knew was there was the first psychic clue I ignored, telling me that the pond was off limits. I wanted to see what action might be taking place on the pond’s surface. (I’d been on that dock a dozen times, always seeing a few different species of damsels, not to mention ducks and once a great blue heron.) The second clue was the massive curtain made of spider webs I had to cut through with my hands. Then shoulder-high wet grasses which soaked me. The final obstacle was a fence made of horizontal branches of young white pines woven together. I’d pushed through each of these challenges and stepped down onto the dock, which let out a loud creak, as if surprised by my presence. A mallard took off from inside the shadow at the far edge. Thousands of silvery water bugs spun circles in the center of the pond. As expected, two bright blue damsels patrolled the pond off the end of the dock. Although the dock seemed fine, some warning bells went off as I stepped onto its rotting surface. Testing each step, I crept to the end for a good glimpse of the damsels, to which I recently committed to learning more about. (Are they dancers? Or bluets?). Turning to go back, I felt secure enough to let my guard down. As I transferred my weight onto my right leg during my second step, I broke through, crashing into the void. My left leg collapsed beneath me and my knee cracked like a giant knuckle, the sound of breaking adhesions from my many surgeries. Or so I hoped. Writhing in pain I struggled to pull my soaked right leg back through the jagged hole I’d made in the rotten dock. I limped to breakfast and have been limping since. My knee is swollen and black and blue. I’ll ice it for a week before seeing a doctor. I ignored the warnings.

#18 My Re-enchantment story


Terry’s photo from yesterday of a large snapping turtle.

My re-birthday. Not my birthday marking the day my mom pushed me out and I took my first breaths. But a year since my heart surgery marked not just a transition but a new beginning. Which somehow it did. Terry asked first thing this morning, what, after a year, this has meant. She added that she feels that I’m a bit more ‘dreamy’. This makes sense. While for the past few years I’ve felt the presence of my ‘inner’ life, whatever membrane existed between it and my outer life has now all but disappeared. In April, my surgical team sent a six-month survey of multiple-choice questions post-surgery, to get a sense of how I felt. The most important question was “if you knew that how you feel today would be the best you would feel for the rest of your life, would that be Great, Ok, not great, bad?” I marked “OK”. Today, if asked the same question, I’d mark, ‘great.’ But also ‘grateful’.

Driving through Acadia late yesterday, we came up a hill and noticed cars pulled over. Something was in the road. We first thought a beaver or otter had been hit. Getting closer, it was a giant snapping turtle. Knowing how vicious a snapping turtle can be, we got as close as we could and still feel safe. It didn’t move. Other than having retracted its right front leg, it didn’t seem injured. As we had a rental car, I had no shovel or blanket to help move it off of the road. Terry called 911 and was transferred to the Park Service. As I crouched in front of it and we, the snapping turtle and I, looked at each other. She (we believe that she was looking for a place to lay her eggs) followed me with her eyes. I asked her what we should do, still thinking that she might be injured. While Terry talked to the Park Service, the turtle stood up, made a sharp left turn and moved quickly toward the water. She seemed a bit unsteady, but made her way to the edge of the road and down the trail of bent grass she’d made earlier, disappearing into the water. There are no coincidences, only synchronicities. Not for a second did I think that finding that snapping turtle in the middle of the road was a random event.