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Friday, October 14, 2011

To Everything There is a Season…and This is One of ‘Em…

Maple splendor

But for a few laggards, the swallows have left the Valley. So has what little sun and warmth this summer offered. And forlorn is the garden now that the chill of the evenings keep us from our end of the day walks among its rows. The big maple tree in the backyard is splashed with autumn color and more of it drips down on the lawn every day.

Most folks don’t like change; I know I don’t and the transition period between summer and fall in this climate becomes more challenging each year. It is far easier to coast through spring into the longer days of summer, the shorter hours of darkness, longer strolls in the garden. Little wonder the seasons are universal symbols for birth, life, and the time of passing on. And while the preacher Ecclesiastes imparts the sage wisdom that to everything there is a season, a time and a purpose for everything and his words urge acceptance, it doesn’t mean one has to be cheerful about it.

At this time of year summer’s grasshopper shivers, and the ever provident ant scurries a little faster to fill its pantry. Let the wasps and hornets succumb to winter. Let the frost nip the cabbage butterflies. You’ve outlived your time and purpose. Good riddance to you both, I say. But it is a with a true feeling of remorse these shorter days of fall I bid goodbye to that bug of summer, the dragonfly, the insect that converts solar energy into its darting and dipping flight. A lone survivor always lingers on here, it seems, struggling to remain aloft over the yard and garden. Its struggles to extend its existence always evoke a sense of sadness. For the dragonfly, too, has its season, and that season is nearly spent. dragonfly

My feelings for the faltering insect bring to mind a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The poet addresses a young girl’s grieving over the passing of spring and summer represented by the dying leaves of fall and tells the child:

Now, no matter, child, the name:

Sorrow’s springs are the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed.

It is the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.

And when I ponder my sense of loss, I understand it’s really not about the dragonfly at all.

Today there is a growing sentiment that government is not about the people’s business; backbiting, finger pointing, and partisan wrangling sap its effectiveness. Our two political parties…each of which could be Dickens’ Office of Circumlocution…telling the other “How a thing ought not to be done,”are constantly at each others’ throats, leaving their constituents to fend for themselves and wonder who’s minding the store. But The Ripple is here to tell you that decisions of great import are being made by our State legislature. Acknowledging the gravity of the issue, in 1997 both State Democrats and Republicans set aside their differences, reached across the aisle, shook hands, and gave unanimous bipartisan support to draft and pass RCW 1.20.047, the text of which states:

The common green darner dragonfly, Anax junius drury, is hereby designated the official state insect of Washington.

Findings: “The legislature finds that the common green darner dragonfly, Anax junius drury, can be found throughout Washington and is easily recognizable by its green head and thorax. The legislature further recognizes that the common green darner dragonfly, also know as the ‘mosquito hawk’ is a beneficial contributor to our ecosystem.”

Now isn’t that the decisiveness and leadership we need and expect from our government!

During the long, hot days of summer one of the innumerable daily diversions we had as children was to try to catch dragonflies. There were always two or three darting about over a wide expanse of grass on the boss’s lawn. These “mosquito hawks” were not green darners but red insects, smaller, with orange-tinted wings. We used a number of techniques to capture the bugs: asparagus fronds, spray from a water hose, cheesecloth nets…but they were elusive as ghosts, hovering one second, jetting off the next. They sidestepped a swing of frond or net with ease, flitting vertically or laterally in the wink of an eye, their amazing aeronautics made possible by the intricate manipulations of four glassine wings. Attempt after attempt failed and we soon tired of the effort, moved on to the next diversion, allowing these ruddy hunters to stalk the airwaves at will for any foolish mosquito that entered their airspace.

I was quite a reader even in those days and happened upon some item of natural history that piqued a boy’s curiosity: a technique by which one could catch dragonflies without nets (or asparagus bushes). A child could construct the device with ease; only two supplies were needed: a pebble and a long horsehair, preferably from a horse’s long tail. You lashed the pebble to one end of horsehair and headed for dragonfly territory where you flung the pebble into their airspace, the tail of hair trailing behind. In theory the dragonfly, unwittingly mistaking the pebble for a mosquito, would swoop upon it, become entangled in the horsehair, and plummet to earth where the delighted child would snatch it up. Either for lack of a horsehair or the desire to prowl around a horse pasture in search of one, it was a theory I didn’t then and have yet to test. (If there are any odonataphiles who have used this method with success, please contact The Ripple.) 

But again, to everything there is a season. The dragonfly will come again and then it will be summer, the time  the environmentalist Rachel Carson tells us in Silent Spring when:

“…above a pond the dragonflies dart and the sun strikes fire from their wings. So their ancestors sped through swamps where huge dragonflies capture mosquitoes in the air, scooping them in with basket-shaped legs. In the waters below, their young, the dragonfly nymphs, or naiads, prey on the aquatic stages of mosquitoes and other insects….”

The sun will tilt back to spring, tip further into summer; the soft and balmy evenings will return, for as the wise man said: “That which has been is now; and that which is to be has already been….” The garden will bloom again, and a new dragonfly will share the backyard with us as we wander through the rows.Fall Dragonfly

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