Dunham's Bay Marsh, Lake George, NY
I see a great many young and tender dragon-flies,
both large and small, hanging to the grass-tops and weeds and twigs which rise above the water still going down.
They are weak and sluggish and tender-looking,
and appear to have lately crawled up these stems
from the bottom where they were hatched,
and to be waiting till they are hardened up in the sun and air.
Where the grass and rushes are thick over the shallow water,
I see their large gauze-like wings vibrating in the breeze
and shining in the sun.
It is remarkable that such tender organizations
survive so many accidents.
Thoreau's Journal, May 22, 1854
While out paddling in any quiet water this time of year, it’s impossible not to notice the dragon-flies. They seem to be everywhere, perched on reeds or resting on lilypads.
Their reputation is one of great hunters (and devourers of many mosquitoes!). Alas the hunter often becomes the hunted, being himself preyed upon by many marshland birds, intent on feeding their hidden young.
Today while paddling in the marsh, I noticed something curled up on a lily pad.
Wasn't sure what it was, until I got much closer:
I pulled the boat in among the reeds to steady it, and watched a dragon-fly trade his aquatic existence for a more aerial life.
The birds appear especially alert to take advantage of them, when in this tender condition.
Blackbirds and kingbirds swooped out over the water, flycatching, and at times dipping down to pick up insects from the water’s surface.
So while in one respect, I was intruding upon a very private scene,
perhaps in a way my presence helped to keep the birds away, at least for now.
It took forty minutes for him to undergo the change from creeping nymph to winged beauty. In a sudden gust of wind, the wings snapped into an open position.
A minute later, came a second gust of wind --and he lifted up up up
and flew out of sight.
Nothing left here on earth except the husk of his former self.
Once the process started, I could not look away. Is it birth? Re-birth? Metamorphosis?
I could only think of the term used back in Thoreau’s day –
“He did not die, but was instead translated
into a higher existence …”