Green Infusion Jewel
(Three Days of the Dragon)
Three days of the dragon in early summer. The first day Shadowdragons pop up in daylight and it is a good sign. They weave and hide among overhanging trumpet vines heavily in bloom. Then while counting butterflies on the second day, the dragons just keep coming and coming. We must stop to admire them all. And the numbers of Pondhawks and Dashers and Slaty Skimmers I truly believe determine our local butterfly numbers—near the water anyway. The Pondhawks were also highly taken with (or temporarily distracted by) a yellowish golden mayfly that we kept launching out of the grass (we the tromping cattle that sent the fresh foods aflutter). The doomed things looked tender and succulent even to me. They made no sound breaking up in the dragonjaws if you leaned in close to the sliding mouthplates of the hawks and dashers.
A very fine stand of Lizardtail that blooms across the road held no butterflies at all. It was all Dashers there as far as one could see, with Great Blue Skimmers trying to carve out some air, Black Saddlebags making its own efforts at a higher territory, and a lone Green Darner going as straight as he could go, daring any other dragon to break his stride. The day before, in this same danger ridden place, a single Least Skipper had been bouncing through the cattail bases. I am now convinced that this little butterfly is often spared because it never comes up out of the tangled vegetation where the waiting dragoneyes watch.
At two of the three Comet ponds that I know in Arkansas, the Comet Darners remain. They have returned for me. I am glad to see them. Both ponds also have Carolina Saddlebags. And they seem to have some sort of interspecies agreement in place until we see one male Comet drop without notice and lift a fine Carolina Saddlebags out of the air and carry it off over the tree tops. Somewhere beyond us it downs the dark red body, readjusting its own fine red tints. This act removes any ideas we had of a nonviolent habitat symbiosis: a Darner/Saddlebags food treaty. The foodchain below the Comet is also colored with Calico Pennants and the turquoise blue of damselfly tasters, snacks and palate cleansers for when the time is right.
A booming Silvery Checkerspot hatch is surviving below the rocky mountainscape of Pinnacle Mountain by shear numbers alone. It is an attempt at overwhelming the predators that somehow must be working for checkerspots. Great Blue Skimmers bang them down; Pondhawks bang them down. We find one large Jumping Spider who can barely hold the checkerspot body that he passively drains. He has taken up his food watch on the sunflower tops. Below him, on a leaf, rests the husk of another Silvery. One week into summer and the aerial foodstuffs seem to be thinning faster than the world can support them.
At a clear creekside, on the third day we are not yet sated. We are trying to find a new dragon among the stones and skippers. A Dragonhunter is working the rapids nearby to the same purpose. We see several of these giants and watch for their successes as a sign of the available possibilities. In the shade of the pines a Petaltail falls from the dark tree trunks and lands on the net I carry. He stares up from right next to my hand. I always stop and stare back at Tachopteryx. Their appearances like spirit visitations; he lifts out of our lives and into the pines again like proof. A Least Clubtail pops on the rocks. The males being, in my opinion, one of the most striking clubbed creatures working the water anywhere in my home state. They are like the small model for the perfect dragon not yet approved for construction, like the paradigm for what can be. Hagenius, the Dragonhunter and Stylogomphus, the Least Clubtail: we have our largest clubbed creature and the smallest in the same close air. I think these miniature Stylos may be too fast for Dragonhunters. They zip away like tricks in the light. One of the Least males lands in front of my boot as I walk and I watch as he vibrates his wings at me, either taunting or warning. Several hatchlings rest nearby on the leaves of the shore. Perhaps he is luring my attention away from them? In a shaded pool a Sanddragon hovers and rushes off, too fast for me and my net. But when I check back in a bit another darker dragon drops in at the same spot and begins doing a baskettail sort of spin and dip and rise and turn, a dance over the shallow water and its clear pool. I edge my feet closer in a shuffle and draw back in the tachycardic moment of the expectant netcock. And then I release.
And thus I have it. I draw from the net a scintillation, a dazzle that draws the breath of my friend and I. It is the green sheen of hummingbird backs and beetle wings with golds and whites and reflected light. It is no common thing; it is the Ozark Emerald. It is Somatochlora ozarkensis, a large female. Slimmer and longer than the baskettails, colored like the mating dreams of peacocks, it is a dragon to make your hand shake. I hold it up to my eye and my eye reels back. My retinas need more carotene for such as this. They were unprepared. In the full light we are shocked. “Good God,” my friend says and I just nod. Who knew? The Mocha Emerald is a wonder of chocolate and dark leafiness but this is something wholly different. One wants to go over to the bridge and hold up the rare traffic so we can tell them what we have found in their woods.
We photograph her, fearing for the failure of our cameras. We examine the downflaps and struts of her egglaying contraption. It seems a special tool: two short feathers, a knob and a spoon. This is where the emerald caviar comes out and spatters the clear water with more jewels. It is a tiny fountain of impressive code. The goggles on the other end, like all dragoneyes, are astonishing.
Eventually we have to let her go, setting her gently on a leaf. She rocks there in the breeze. She is a third-day sign. The turn-back-to-your-world sign: planes to catch, roads to roll over, a desk to face. When she suddenly goes she goes fast and straight away with flat wings, no messing around. She must go and hide somewhere and recover quickly from these giants in her life. It is nearly July. The days have reached peak light and past. Dragonlife is short. Hell, non-dragonlife is short. She must get back to her summer’s work that seems, even now, after rain and a day, far more important than the telling and the tale, than what I am doing and what I have done.
But I’ll get over it.