Outside the world looks unlikely for July. Looks more like fall with the low clouds that can’t make up their mind which direction they should move or who they should rain on. They drizzle on in indifference having burned out in lightning and downpour most of the night. Somewhere out there is another angry uplift. It is the timing that is important. And, of course, these days, there is the radar which is so accessible on the internet.
I head east towards the place where several small creeks cross the burned semi-prairie at what is known as a game and fish demonstration area. Demonstration of quail having been the main management goal originally. And the cause, I suspect, of the naming. The place still holds dog trials. Although often the transplanted quail are disorderly and confused. The ones, that is, that survive the Cooper’s Hawks that know a land of indecisive and frankly dumbass Gallinaceous birds when they find one. I have only a few hours, but I want to walk in some creek shadow. I want the last Coneflower and Liatris to scrape up around my waist and throw some butterflies around. They burn the place on a strict schedule. The wildflowers can be tremendous, appreciating the world which has gone back to frequent cleansing fires. The best blooms need disaster and its quiet aftermath.
I park beyond the bridge and take the camera and tripod out. I will be a photo-minded walker today. I have discovered you must decide to be a photographer or not on any given walk. Walks must be walked with different eyes and ears for photography. The difference being about the same as a film director visiting Alaska with his family or on a scouting trip for movie locations. (I am guessing.) I drove through small Glider swarms before I parked. Over the vegetation, off the road, it is all Slaty Skimmers. The looping things eat Dashers I hope. I watch for the big form of the Arrowhead Spiketail. This is their creek really. But when I was here a few weeks ago I saw quite a few Mocha Emeralds in addition to Spiketails. I have come back now for the ones with chlora in their somata.
Pondhawks scurry under more Slaty Skimmers. I flush the slow motion bat flutter of Common Wood-Nymphs: strobing yellow windows that drop in deadfall. Flap and drop. Wood-Nymphs crash like syncopal things. They are very camera shy. I have spent my time trying for the ultimate Wood-Nymph photo. I have done my time there. But still one watches with the camera and cocks the head, takes a step. Watches for the light and background. At the creekside itself, I assess the water status. Despite all of last night’s hoopla and fluorescence, there is very little standing water. This is a creek that is rarely a creek anyway. I know you have seen its kind. In July it often looks like a stone highway through trees and flowers with pools so rare they don’t seem all that connected in any kind of overall plan. To the left I see some overhangs and stepping toward them I see hovering.
Needham, Westfall and May say “one of our handsomest eastern species.” I am with you guys. “Shining brown, with green reflections,” they further say. In the shaded creeklight they look like delicate dark sticks guarding the rare rainwater. The stones here are black and mossy. The land overhangs with roots and leaning plantlife. Undercut by what? What kind of storm it must take to make this creek a raging erosion beast I will not try and imagine. This place is Emeraldish, in the knowing lingo. This place looks Emeraldish is what I know. And, indeed, they fly before me.
Two males are hover-dueling over the clear rainwater pool. The pool is no more than a half inch deep and maybe five yards long. I can hear wing rattle with the sharpest encounters. You can hear the sharpest turns of dragonflies. This is a fact that seems somewhat extraordinary when you say it right out loud. But you can hear the straining turns of dragon wings in still air. In places of such quiet, anyway. Which is the whole reason for being here I suppose. There are several Haiku in there somewhere.
Dressed in red,
Off to the festival.
These dragons are dark marks in the air. No reds. No festivals. They shoot off in hurried contrails of testosterone. I cannot tell the victor from the lost. I move over closer to the water. And one soon returns and hovers so close I am not sure I can focus on him. The eyes are otherworldly in the little light there is, reflecting an intense green, a green that appears to be lit from some undefined brainlight within. They are not named for the eyes, but this one should be. He slowly floats up and attaches himself under the roots.
Dunkle says “feeds high over clearings.” And the first Mochas of my short life were indeed dark unknown things up and swarming. We found them in Oklahoma along a levee next to flooded woods. We chased them when they came down along the vegetation. Like madmen really. Like children, I suppose, with nets. When insects turn you into children you should be respectful of this transition. It grows rarer. We failed and failed until we found one angled up under some shrubs and took one in the net. We celebrated like Olympians. We cheered each other like we had looped the damn javelin over the stadium wall. And in our hands we could not believe this insect. Dunkle says they have an “elegant shape.” But calls them “plain brown.” Oh, Sid.
I move like a cat. Or an arthritic cat, at least. Trying to arrange myself on stones and water, manipulating the light under the embankment. And the other male shoots back in and the wild chase is off again. The male keeps coming back to one of two perches. And I have him in the lens, enlarged, looming. He considers me a stumpy yellow obstacle after a bit. And then I hear rattling again and twist my head to the side to find the female banging the meager water surface with her abdomen. She is clipping the shallow water over and over. I am too contorted to shoot her as she bangs the water next to my shoe. And then the other male comes and crashes her and they rattle more violently before making some hieroglyphic blur of escape from the other male.
I have never had them hover around me like inquisitive hummers. This remaining male does. Those eyes. Damn. I must have some green, green light on my face. I wish I could see it. He turns in the air like it is a nothing maneuver. What the military could do with such capabilities. We crash our Harriers and hovercraft over and over. We need dragon design but we are not the artisans that a couple hundred million years and great need are. We are shoddy metal welders. We are wishful gravity clods.
Sprinkles fall. The light seems iffy again and I head back. Watching the Slatys and Pondhawks with something like disdain. An Amberwing floats and seems more attuned. In the truck the rain starts full out on the highway. Like it had been waiting to pounce. I hope it fills the Emerald pools. Years ago, finding dragons was like opening a new room in the head. I have things in the room now. I know when I have been present, in the alternate sense. Definition number 3 in the American Heritage: “Now being considered; actually here or involved…” Uh-huh. And shamefully number 6 is labeled as obsolete: “alert to circumstances, attentive.”
Present. With Emeralds, I want to insert. In shaded waterway, between rainshowers, with distant lighting, standing with green-eyed dragonflies.
After over eighteen thousand days on this green space orb, I know when I have been witness.