Harlequins, Harlequins


I’ve been waiting for them this year. Two years ago I found one by accident. Just walking down a trail and there is a dragon stuck to the side of a tree trunk—strange looking thing. “Harlequin” the guides said. My eyes weren’t accustomed. It was when I was just getting started training the dragonretina. Burning new circuits in the lateral movement detector loops; engrailing the flying stick cells, the horizontal zip cortex. Last year the Harlequins just seemed to appear en masse—before I was really ready for them. I was standing in Cobweb Skippers and Dusted Skippers and then suddenly the Harlequin Darners, the G furs, were loose upon us. This year I was keeping my eye open.


Walking today up to the open field where the Verbena patches bloom across a hillside of open bluegrass. The yucca plants sit there all spiked and towered, last year's fruit stalks in various stages of windblown lean, it seems to be a favorite area of the few cruising Green Darners who live nearby. This is dry landscape. The cypress swamp is, well, way over there. Here the female darners perch on last years bluestem remnants, always low and alert. When they pop up, they go away high and fast.


There is a path there of old ruts. Where I walk, there are so many Blue Corporals upon the road, it is disorienting. I try to spot Clubtails moving among so many other dragons. Clubtails have that other way of falling. Like Blackhawk helicopters coming down. Corporals instead seem to skid and lock—there is a difference but still it is difficult. A few Whitetails stir up the Corporals. And these Corporals stir up more Corporals. These Whitetails look dark and large, comparatively but there is nothing to put the Whitetail females in true perspective.


A few brave Baskettails still go with their buzz and bounce, the turning stall. Indigo Buntings ring the fields now and sing and sing. It has been a sudden coming. And now they are the noise to lock out, the noise to listen beneath. A few Swainson’s Thrushes call to the east in dense wood. They are passing through, heading towards heavier timber. And I am there stooping and listening to it all, trying to discern the purpose of a Corporal male who sits just in front of a Dusted Skipper. I think they are unaware of each other: dragon and skip. It is an odd-couple shot. And then something buzzes my ear.


I leap up, thinking at first that it is the Yucca Giant Skipper again. I saw her ten days ago laying eggs nearby. The eggs are now ripening in the sun—one per yucca leaf. They are slowly turning a burnished red. (I await nymphal Giant Skippers—surely a wondrous sight.) But this wing noise near my ear was not right. Not for that black flutter-winged thing. She was softer and quieter, like a muffled Monk Skipper. This is a rattle—fly wing or dragon flap. It buzzes again and something lands afterwards on my right forearm. And indeed, it is the visual answer to the buzz. I look and laugh. (I laugh, it should be noted, without moving my right forearm. It is a feat I am temporarily proud of.) Upon my right arm sits the first Harlequin, Gomphaeschna furcillata of the year. It is a male. And he is enjoying a small bug of some sort. He is horizontally oriented, this G fur. I would have guessed they ate with their tails down but here once more I am wrong. He may have tried for my ear and a more desirable vertical head perch but he settled instead on the forearm surface. And now he is so distracted by his meal I reach carefully across with my free hand and take the left pair of wings.


Green-eyed, a train of yellow and orange geometries over burnt browns and charcoals, it is a lovely insect. The mouthpieces skritch, gleaning bug blood. The tail appendages are curved and long like a dual ratchet tool of some sort, a small can opener. I am sorry I have disturbed him. But still glad to see him. I give him a slight shake and set him on a leaf in the sun. He flutters as though in disbelief of his luck. And then he is gone.


It was nothing really, another dragon touch, but I would like to tell someone anyway. It was a moment that makes no difference in the wider world. I could tell my partners at work; but I can see already the brow furrows I would get, the concerned looks. They might even prescribe medicines. Should you sir, not be doing more serious things? Bankers and newsmen do not care. It was not a life changing matter in the great scheme of things, but I know my daughter would smile knowing the details. I can tell her later: the first Harlequin Darner of the year feasted and sat on the top of my right arm. It did nothing for the security of nations or the price of oil. And I did nothing myself but stand among the April clouds and see it happen. It was a simple thing. But still, on the road home, rubbing the touchpoint on my dragoned arm, I wobbled on the pavement and smirked through the windshield at the go-go traffic like some newly consecrated entity, like the latest definition of the chosen one.