Several nights of temperatures in the mid-thirties, days of rain and evenings of wind, the leaves, with their transient purchase on the trees, have thinned considerably. The vibrant colors of the woods behind our house,  those of the trees in the park, and the ribbons of nature along freeways and sidestreets are being replaced by a bowl of sky that is ever more visible through the framework of barren branches.

Yesterday, a pile of old lumber calling to be carried down the hill and loaded into my truck and wearing my first hooded rain parka of the year, I stepped outside and unexpectantly into a clattering sound being created by the wings of a dragonfly. It was trapped and trying to escape through the translucent cover of the deck.

Perhaps having sought shelter and safety for the night, the dragonfly, in morning’s hush, was now scaring itself to death thrusting upward and bewildered against the ten-foot height of the fiberglass roof. Grabbing a nearby ladder and a bamboo rake I was hoping that the dragonfly, in tiredness, might use the handle of the rake for respite just long enough that I could transport it from under the porch and out and into the rest of its life.

No amount of positioning of the rake’s handle facilitating the creature’s freedom, I abandoned the rescue.  The measured arcs of its descents and rise suggested the hope that it might eventually reach the edge of the patio’s roofing on its own.

An hour later, the lumber down the hill and into the truck Kathy came out onto the deck and called to me. “There is a huge dragonfly on the deck laying on its back.” Not having witnessed my rescue attempt she added, “It must have hit a window.”

Suspecting exhaustion and a degree of shock I retrieved the dragonfly’s lifeless body and removing my gloves held it in cupped hands while adding the warmth of my breath for about ten minutes.

As I blew towards the segmented arc of the body, its lustrous eyes round and watching, its translucent wings wonderous in their structure, my mind flashed back to all of the found birds I attempted to revive for my hopeful children, the wondrously colored coat of fur on the choking hamster my daughter prayed I could resuscitate, the iridescent hues of the pheasant intended-as-present our old cat Tiger once delivered to our doorstep. And I imagined my own eyes – as they were later described by a pragmatic nurse – open and perhaps pleading to the rhymic hands on my chest as I myself was being brought back to life a decade ago.

Breathe. Keep trying. And again.

In response to a period of rest or the warmth of my breath, the dragonfly’s wings fluttered once.  Then twice.   Then stilled again as if they were soaring across the unknowable ponds of the hereafter. The sky dimmed; a shadow of light rain returned.

Several more breaths and one of the wings spasmed with life.

An intern waiting patiently at the back of my thoughts stepped forward with a suggestion.

I opened the top of my coat and carefully placed the dragonfly under its warmth and buried my nose into the space created by the partially opened zipper; an oxygen tent of sorts and a nose warmer in a single gesture. Enabled too, was the opportunity to warm my fingers as they pressed together against the breath-heated fabric of the collar.

Minutes passed.

I felt the dragonfly tremble against my shirt, a slight vibration of wings against the side of my nose.

Without plunging into the realms of spiritualism, yesterday, cold and aching from age and lumber-hauling efforts and nose-first into the collar of my coat, hands pressed knuckle to knuckle as if in prayer, I was made, for a few moments, a child again;  a long-ago boy to whom everything had value and meaning, and nothing – not a blade of grass, or acorn, or marble, or cloud, or rolled up pill bug – seemed inconsequential; a child to whom even the smallest of detail opened the doors of hope, curiosity – escape.

Unzipping my coat and offering my fingers, the dragonfly revived, released its grip on my shirt and crawled up and onto the back of my hand, where, once rested from its struggle, it began to rotate its eye-dominated head from side to side, animate its wings, and coil and recoil its tail-like body.

Flight check.

Sensors. Wings. Runway clearance.

With caution, the dragonfly advanced onto my thumb where it rested for several minutes – long enough for me to clumsily get my phone out and take its photograph.

Its wings moving again, but this time escalating towards a hum, the dragonfly lifted, paused mid-air, rotated in a complete circle, and then as quickly as its panicked presence had entered my life, was gone up and over the sparsely hued tops of nearby trees.

Before I sat down to write this evening and against my better judgment I glanced at the news. The pandemic is out of control, Following the election political chaos looms. Democracy is reportedly at the brink. We’ve passed the tipping point of climate change.

I shut my eyes, fill my lungs with air, and let my head fall back. My forearms and fingers sink into the chair. The fall foliage this year – as it has every year – seems more spectacular than ever before. Last week a wild rabbit with a curious circle of white hair on its throat and long missing from our yard, returned to eat the clover in the autumn grass. Tomorrow the old lumber, carried down the hill and stacked in my truck, will go to a recycling center. A thank you came in the mail this afternoon from a children’s hospital. One of our grandsons called last night just to say hello; an old friend texted a short while afterwards to say that he missed me.

My eyes still shut, my hands cup together and rise to my face. I breathe into the hallow of the space they’ve created and as I do they fall slowly away and begin to part from one another. Mid-position they pause. The dragonfly hovers for a moment just above my fingertips. Its enormous eyes are focused on mine.

Flight check.

Sensors. Wings. Runway clearance.

A hum rising above his hands, a brush of air against his face, a boy reaches for his pen and begins to write.

14 Responses

  1. Sheila Turcotte says:

    This was so very beautiful! Thank you for reminding all of us that there is always hope! Stay well and happy!

  2. Coleen Hoffman says:

    Thank you for this beautiful essay; it really lifts my sprits. If I could wish for one thing (which has nothing to do with your writing) it would be that your sidebar comments be on a lighter background, so when I print it for Kay it is more clear to read. Remember, we have old eyes. I love you Fred. Coleen

  3. Cristy Murray says:

    Love you, Fred. Wishing you and Kathy a very Happy Thanksgiving and hope we can get together to share a coffee soon. Thank you for rescuing the beautiful dragonfly.

  4. Fred Swan says:

    So good to hear from you Cristy! The dragonfly reviving was such a hopeful thing to experience. Would really like to see you too. We’ll watch the weather gods of December and maybe be able to meet up before the end of the year.

  5. Fred Swan says:

    Hoping Kay is doing okay. Maybe in a FB message, you could send me her number. Thank you for writing. I’m working on the website to learn the techs of it. I think I know how to change the text color. Will give it a try. Hoping things are good in your life.

  6. Fred Swan says:

    Thank you so very much Sheila! The dragonfly encounter was one of those events that I’ll carry along when doubt comes along. And thank you for writing.

  7. Michelle says:

    Thanks for this quiet moment of reflection. Sorry for your loss, wishing you health and a peaceful place to contemplate.

  8. That dragonfly was certainly lucky to have you there. And you are such an eloquent writer that I felt like I was huddled in your coat too. It was the best part of my morning. Thank you!

  9. Your words and presence, whether in person or on page are always a salve to my soul to my soul. I miss you terribly.

  10. Fred Swan says:

    Thank you, Kelly. It’s been so long! I judge my missing someone of late by the frequency with which I identify their smile, glance, facial features, and gestures in that of another on TV, in a movie – or in some other kind of programming. I mention it to Kathy – “that looks like” or “he/she has eyes like – smiles like, etc.” I’ve spotted “you” quite a few times over the last several months. Your new work is terrific. Happy you’re creating through the storm.

  11. Fred Swan says:

    That’s so good to hear Linda! I’m so grateful for your support and encouragement and friendship. The dragonfly coming back to life was a real gift to my spirit. Seems like we have had a line of small creatures showing up here on the hill asking for help. The Stellar’s Jay that I wrote about in June has continued to thrive and shows up every morning to the deck to have coffee with us. Hope you and Jack have been able to huddle up on your deck some of these better days.

  12. Fred Swan says:

    Thank you, Michelle. Paul was an important person in our life. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to be close to him. This particular time of year calls forth so many feelings. I agree – it’s important more than ever to reflect and be grateful for the beauty and gifts of time. Wishing you good things.

  13. Manuela Kalestiantz says:

    Fred, you are such a gift and inspiration!
    I so want to hold on to those moments of mindfulness and wonder…they come into our lives, sometimes very unexpectedly. At those moments I give thanks, smile and feel privileged, then slowly like a ray of sun it all escapes and is replaced by life’s hurried beats and time seems scarce. Your writing has a very warm, loving, while scholarly quality to it and I love reading it. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and thoughts with us!

  14. Fred Swan says:

    Hello Manuela. I’m honored by your time and feedback. Those brief moments of wonder are such valuable gifts to store in our memories. In a world where shadows can so easily be found, I attempt to consciously look for the gifts of the every day. Thank you so much.