The Birth of a Dragonfly
"My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement." - Patricia Banks, in the film Joe Versus the Volcano.
The trouble with everyday miracles is that you don't always recognize them at first glance.
I stopped by one of my favorite places, the lily pond at the Penn State Arboretum, on Friday morning. It was at least my second time there this week, maybe the third. I lose count.
It was a gorgeous, clear, blue-sky morning, and I saw several tiny dragonflies and damselflies. I was snapping pictures when I noticed something odd on a plant nearby. It looked like a zombie dragonfly, sucking the brains out of another dragonfly. Wow!
Then I started thinking. And when I got back to my computer, I did a search on "dragonfly life cycle," and here is what I learned.
Male and female dragonflies mate in the air, and the female lays eggs in the water. The eggs hatch into nymphs, and the dragonfly spends the first part of its life as an aquatic creature.
Then, one special day, when the time is right, the nymph climbs up out of the water and onto a plant, where it sheds its old skin and emerges as a brand-spanking-new, fresh dragonfly. The crusty shell that's left behind is called an exuvia.
I realized that what I had seen was that magic moment of metamorphosis. When an aquatic creature suddenly crawled out of the water and grew wings, and decided . . . to fly!
Suddenly fascinated by the whole scene, I resolved to return to the Arboretum later in the day to check on its progress. And so in late afternoon, I did. And I found just the dry shell hanging there. It looked even smaller and crustier than it had in the morning.
As I stood by the Arboretum's lily pond, pondering the great mysteries of life, two huge, bright, shiny-blue dragonflies appeared, and swirled around me, buzzing the plants, flying up into the sunny blue sky.
I can never know for sure, of course, but I believe that one of those huge blue dragonflies I saw was the creature shown in this photo, several hours after its emergence from the shell.
I was unbelievably touched by this series of events. No, I wasn't there at the birth of the world. I didn't see the sky parted, the clouds created, the birth of the planets. No trumpets sounded. There was no flash of fire or light, no roaring winds.
But on Friday morning, I watched the birth of a dragonfly, and it was amazing. To even imagine how it felt to be this creature - to swim one moment, to walk the next, and then - to fly! - up into the clear blue sky on magic wings.
I am humbled. I am inspired. I am delighted. What a gift to have experienced such a moment.
Welcome, dragonfly; welcome to the world of blue sky and light and flowers. And to the glory of flight!