When life hands us trouble, and if we live long enough we’ll have trouble, sometimes a small diversion can offer a new perspective. Some of the details of nature can present us with important diversions. My father often drew my attention to the miracles of God in nature, whether we were sitting on a bench as thunderstorms approached from the west, lying on the ground under a tree watching the sun make rainbows in the dew drops on the grass, or just standing in the yard with our fingers raised, expecting a dragonfly to stop midair and land there. And one usually did.
Dragonflies have been a symbol of life’s refreshing energy to me for many years. When my father died in March seventeen years ago, these summer insects became an even more important reminder of his life to me. I found myself in a gift shop at the hospital on the morning of the day he died. A metal, filigreed dragonfly captured my attention at once, and after paying the clerk, I tucked it in a pocket without much thought. I wore it to his funeral on a pale blue scarf with faint outlines of dragonflies. Coming home, I tucked them both away in a drawer. I remember being in the greenhouse early that summer when suddenly the air outside seemed filled with dragonflies. I laughed aloud and thought, “Hello, Daddy.”
I know that my daddy didn’t become a dragonfly when he passed from this earth, but his closeness to all of God’s creation is brought home to my mind when I see dragonflies in the summer. Just last week I was with some church friends cleaning the sanctuary for Sunday’s service. I accepted the task of washing away the mildew that had collected on the front doors; and in the middle of my scrubbing, the air to the left buzzed with dragonflies apparently catching mosquitoes or gnats. My father gave many hours of work to his church; the dragonflies reminded me of that, and of him.
When we were children, we played outside as children did in the old days. There were no tiny handheld screens to capture our attention and keep us in the house. After breakfast, if there were no inside chores to do, we went outside to play. With no four-wheelers or go-carts to distract us, we stared at nature around us until an idea emerged. I learned to attract doodlebugs from small earth tunnels with twigs and a song: “Doodle bug, doodle bug, come for your supper.” I made clover chains and searched for the four-leaf clover that would confirm the current love of my life. And I tied a string to the tail of a dragonfly and made him become a kite, soaring as far as the string was long. Then I released him.
Dragonflies, or Mosquito Hawks as we call them, live only a couple of months in the summer. During that time, they are beneficial insects, eating about anything they can catch on the wing, including mosquitoes, gnats, flies, or termites. Unfortunately for me, they also eat two of my other insect friends: bees and butterflies. I was working in the greenhouse recently and found a dead black swallowtail, missing his abdomen, likely the work of a dragonfly.
Dragonflies don’t sting; however, they may try to bite if you hold the abdomen too tightly or put the mouth too close to your skin. If you see them on flowers, they are there only to catch the insect that might be lurking there.
Our local dragonflies come in shades of green, blue, or gold. Some have black splotches on their wings and have interesting names: amberwing, pondhawk, skimmers, and darners. Often, during the summer as I am working with bees or plants outside, I stop to talk to the blue darner or the pondhawk that lights on the dowel holding up the fennel stem. If I touch the feet, one will usually crawl on my finger for a long chat.
The name Dragonfly is linked in Romanian folklore to a story of the Devil turning St. George’s horse into a giant, flying insect. The Romanians called the insect “Devil’s Fly,” and the word for Devil in Romanian language is “drac.” Drac was also the Romanian word for dragon. Translated into English, we have Dragon Fly which eventually became one word. Contrary to an old wives’ tale, dragonflies don’t sew up your lips so you can’t eat and will starve.
Amberwings stop to rest and look for food on the lantana in my butterfly garden. As I type, I am often diverted by a blue darner sitting on the television antennae cable that runs to the roof. When I wash dishes after supper, I usually see a green skimmer sitting on one of the orange-yellow canna lilies outside the kitchen window. Perhaps they are just insects finding their way through two months of life at the edge of the swamp. For me they are important diversions, cleaning the air of mosquitoes and reminding me of a father who had diversions of his own, including time for dragonflies.