Briefly, Into Dragons


I feel for the Canadians. And then again, in three months I would trade a used car, some good rope and a fine dog for their temperature clines and their northern Darner swarms. It is the fickleness of geography and distance, the limitations of human mobility. We all need three homes scattered across the latitudes.


My daughter and I threw ourselves south into Florida. Impatience, the fever of March, that teaser of a month making us a little mad—I have no excuse. As soon as I saw the dragons there, something shifted back into place. Not a dragon seen here in Arkansas before we left, the dragons have been flying down there for weeks, for months, for a continuous hundred million years apparently. Made me want to slap a random Florida local.


“What was that for??”


“For having so many damn dragons in March. And for not paying attention.”


I would have been better off if someone had done the same thing for me ten years ago.


We stop for a pair of Sandhill Cranes who are guarding a downy duck on stilts—their new hatchling. Those are lovely creatures, large and small. In the ditch while we watch, we are swarmed by Baskettails. We net one and stare at it. It looks wrong somehow. And of course it is, it is a Florida Baskettail. This peninsula can’t just have normal species. No, it has to have its very own.


Beside a lake where Snail Kites feed, a dragon crashes at my feet. I lift it up: a glider. A Hyacinth, in fact, that is flimsy, soft and whacked in its new flight compass. We set it back by its lake. In no time it will be topping the trees, forgetting its nymphal inadequacies.


Everywhere are dragons. And usually not the ones we know though the Carolina Saddlebags are thick and familiar. And the other gliders do glide among the Hyacinths. In the brackish places the Seaside Dragonlets and Little Blues are so common as to be vermin around your knees and feet. Millions of Dashers and pondhawks flit as well. What butterfly could survive this predatory cloud? The crescents don’t; the Great Whites do. I cringe at the gauntlet as the Dainty Sulphurs go.


Regal Darners seem to have replaced the Swampies of home. They are like Swampies on diet pills, beautiful with their copper and green eyes, Egyptian etchings on their dragonspines, tail feathers gone to surreal lengths. We see the brotherhood.


Marl and Four-spotted Pennants: they both perch on stemtips and wait like strange terminal plant buds become animate. There are hundreds of them. The Golden-winged Skimmers form up in swarms and move higher. They turn like gnat clouds. Odd behavior for skimmers in my state.


And who knew about these black-winged Dancers? Argia fumipennis atra. It is quite a name. Are they trying to blend in with the Jewelwings? The first one I see is doing exactly that: bouncing with Jewelwings. What the advantages of very black wings?


As south as Miami, we seem to have pushed too far into summer. My daughter looks sweaty and flushed. It is a stifling ninety degrees. We have gone soft in our thermostats. The trees are weird. Parrots are squawking. Who told Florida it was part of the real world? Next to a pond that has truly gone to skimmer madness a large lizard basks. It is Iguana iguana and my daughter launches after him. Then there are iguanas everywhere. I swear I saw a skimmer perch on one. These lizards throw themselves into the water like arrows. Above us a Gray Kingbird has skimmer wings jutting on either side of its big black beak. There is enough food here in just skimmer meat alone for all the world of kingbirds to fatten on.


Back at home today the water pools are empty. I think I have made a mistake. Like the hangover after dragonspeed, the steep comedown of airplane games, I’ve heated the braincase too quickly. “No dragons, no dragons,” I scan and say. But a White-eyed Vireo calls. The first of the year. And a Broad-winged Hawk circles overhead moving north. And then a darner: the green kind; the normal kind. It cuts over my local pool. And then there is another and another. They’ve moved into my area. They grapple. They tap the water with their egging tails.


I sit down on the grass. Black-and-white Warblers call. A south breeze blows. And for awhile I watch those Darners like they are the last and best dragonflies I will ever see. Like I’ve come around. I’d forgotten how smoothly they flew. How fast. How so very turquoise they are when they turn and flash. The blues more deep in the eye after absence, after rain and chill; I smile. And they just go about their business. They wend around me like I’m their reason for coming, like the spit in winter’s eye.


Hang on Canada, Minnesota, Ohio and, hell, even Finland. I’m with you: when they came closest, I whispered northward in their ear.