Last September I found a Twelve-spotted Skimmer, a Libellula pulchella, that was so battered and lost to the world that it brought the summer down like a curtain. Cocked low in the morning grasses and dew laden, it was signatory. I have not seen such a dragon this year. I cannot consciously look for this kind of thing. It is too hard on the watcher: this dreading, this scanning for the equinoctial bug. This year, instead, the temperature just seemed to shift into a new realm, marking a turn. Hawks made minikettles over my house, the towhees shut up like they were stoppered or shot.
This was the first summer where I walked in the world with dragons as backdropóas one of the familiar things. I did not have to stop to inspect every one of them. Often the flash and turn, the specific gestalt of the thing told me who it was and then I let them fall back into the mix. Let them fall back with the bird calls that are part of my basal wiring, back in the continuous auditory singsong of the season of heat. I hear them but I donít hear them, like the tinnitus that only returns when you say its name.
This summer I searched for Robber Flies. They changed the way I tracked through the world. They became the objects of desire. But while I tromped and swung at them I did run into several new dragons. A tiny female Little Blue Dragonlet, Erythrodiplax minuscula, showed itself in a mountain pond. A Gilded River Cruiser slanted into a perch for me along a trail. And, forgetting the dragons once, I laughed when one recent Hanging Fly, a Diogmites, a Robber Fly that looks like a moon landing vehicle, suddenly rocketed straight up toward a Glider going over on low cruise. It was going for food or perhaps it was just showing off but it also said to me suddenly, ďhey, remember those?Ē
The Darners are still flitting at dusk around my house. The yard Whitetails donít look all that worn. And the Glider flocks look as large and as nervous as always. Beneath the late Saddlebags, beneath those southbound Tramea lacerata, among the goldenrod towers, I have begun to pay attention to the hunting wasps. Fabre and Evans and their books have turned my eye once again. Their enthusiasm has explained some absence I didnít know I had. Like finding out I have been missing a valuable sensory organ.
Plopped on the ground today, tracking a stunning iridescent blue wasp that was over an inch long, I think I ignored the robbers for awhile. The wasp was dragging a tremendous katydid. Pulling it like a medic with his trundle of wounded man, only more sinister. Down close, these wasps can be judged as much by what variety of bug they take as by their colorings (they are what they eat). But this haul of meat was too much for any flying thing short of a hawk. Some of these wasps are so particular they will take not just one species of katydid but only egg-laden, female katys of that species. I think this hefty animal qualified. This great blue predator struggled and buzzed its wings so hard it blew the grasses apart. And as Iíve recently read, this wasp kept trying to get up as high as the stalks would take it so it could launch itself for a weighted glide downwind, so it could make a little headway in a powered crash dive. It was trying desperately to get there, to arrive, to pop this katydid in a hole somewhere. It was so hard at work I felt like a shirker. ďWhere are you going?Ē I said out loud, ďIíll carry the damn thing for you.Ē Eventually, it just seemed to vanish on its staggering way. (I must have looked away or something.) Fabre, I believe, said he had watched his hunting wasps walk on foot with a kill for a hundred feet or more.
Upriver, a big Tawny Emperor hatch kept flashing me with orange on the way back. Tiger beetles were pecking at ants on the beach. Stichopogon, the tiny robbers, turned and jerked alertly nearby like small, six-legged dogs. Yes, I thought, staring at them, I believe that next summer Iíll chase some wasps. Iíll try to treat the robbers like old friends, the dragons like family, the butterflies like the souls of my former lives. One wants to stay lost and baffled for every summer season that comes. One wants to be among things that make you scratch your head. Iím saying that when I am disgustingly complacent, when I can stand by a river among its stones and flowers and all its busy nectaring and dying things and look bored with it all, that, my friend, will be the last season I deserve.