Eating from the Wind
Without regret. Without regard. Primitive.
You were born it is said from the age of stones and yet many spend a good amount of time wary and fearful of you: Ear Cutter, Devil’s Needle. Many have fallen and been split open before you and some have tried to reunite with your radiant armor in a way that belittles this token of life. With that immaculate compound eye could you not have prevented those who would throw away the favor of living from doing so by perhaps removing their wings?
Did it matter what the reasons for the coupling were? They may have been in sweet love or simple lust. They may have just been curious, or worse totally indifferent to what is still widely regarded as a life changing (challenging?) moment. Had one of them done this before or were they both, well you know, simply engorged and slippery? And, in what seems a perfectly acceptable model in the continuing Brotopia epic, he left the story. Literally. And nobody will ever know all of the details, all of the minutiae that goes into the unmaking of a couple; reduction of a solid 2 down to a shaky 1, unless one seeks the innocent opinion of the now dad-less baby Arial.
Toying with Dragonflies. Not literally mind you although when I asked Dianne about her experiences with insects she told me that she used to capture and keep Dragonflies when she was very young back in the Philippines. She said that they were difficult but not impossible to capture: move slowly so as not to create vibrations, appear as though you are nothing more than a slow moving tree or vertically oriented body of water, make next to no noise and try not to even breathe your breath of Pork Adobo so that when you get close enough you can bind the wings with fingers and transport the creature to your waiting favorite jar.
She said that they glowed in the dark. This I had a hard time with. I had a hard time believing that these already immaculately colored, iridescent, and powerful insects could also glow in the dark; such an endowment seemed unfair and grossly disproportionate to what others in either the animal or insect kingdoms were naturally endowed with. I searched online because maybe I was wrong. Perhaps there was a species somewhere in the Far East that had co-opted luminescence out of necessity: a lure to the arena of the hunt, the killing floors. Maybe all those summers spent growing up near contained and stilled bodies of water had deadened my very own senses to the real nature of possibility. I found no supporting evidence. After a few minutes spent reflecting on her youth - what did and didn’t actually happen – she relented. She had briefly confused Dragonfly and firefly. Fire and dragon being so symbiotic, so visual, so GoT. Dragonflies are drawn to the light like almost every living thing is drawn to light: by varying degrees you will sense the allure, the serenity of the great bright unknown, a teary, occipital and palpable burn.
There was a boy, 15 years bright and, by turns I’m told, effervescent one day & moody dark on others, for whom light, along with all of its faulty, misleading, affirmative and brilliant attributes proved weaker than the bell that tolled and cut through the light, the bell that informed the boy his exit time drew close. The boy and the girl had been sweets on each other since the 7th grade, been nearly inseparable and suddenly, after the first semester of high school, he was forced to transfer schools. My source knew not why. The ringing, the sounding or clanging, had arrived. The girl was already carrying their baby by this point.
How Not to Destroy that Which We Fear
Seems that the late 60’s and early 70’s were rife with apocalyptic insect disaster movies. Bugs grew gigantic. Swarmed cities. Hollowed out the earth. Got mutated by meteors. Grew hungry for something beyond what was already largely available…that would be our species. Cockroaches, ants, bees, spiders – the insects that essentially, by their appearance and various methods of interacting with the world, comprise the bulk of insecticidal advertising campaigns. Stamp out the bugs, keep them underfoot and under control for they will ruin your home (termites), you pets (fleas), your day (locusts). Keep in mind though that, according to the pseudo-documentary The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971) humanity will ultimately lose this futile battle with the bugs. Adaptability. Rapid reproduction. Qualities we as a species possess in small measure and in tiny amounts of necessity.
Ever see the movie about renegade Dragonflies decapitating people left and right, bringing down planes by stripping off the wings, blinding their would be destroyers with magnificent iridescence similar I imagine to what those dudes felt when they opened the Ark in the first Indiana Jones movie before melting away? Yeah me either. There are movies with crazy Mantises, giant Grasshoppers, prehistoric renegade Beetles (Jurassic Park at the sole level). Dragonflies are due an epic movie: they are born and live in the water initially – this is actually true. But then they eat everything they can, including piranhas and sharks, for they are indeed ravenous. Once mature enough they emerge as lethal winged creatures, decapitating boys bands and their narcoleptic fans, harassing men and devouring those slimy thinking sticks, zipping down and feasting on nonplussed female and male administration officials…
Perhaps there is a line over which the end is not all that dark, the bell not so dour. Remember: a little amber goes a long way as a steadfast preservative. Surely the creatures one encounters on that side of the line are not all as uncommon as we think.
What We Fail to See
Dragonflies live in segments. From egg to nymph to finally Dragonfly. The largest of those segments designates the Anisoptera (Order: Odonata) an aquatic existence. Anywhere from 2 – 6 years depending on a variety of cultural markers: altitude, temperature, latitude, etc. After which it only has a fixed amount of time – typically 2-4 months, sometimes even 6 - that it can fly in several directions (similar in a way to the Wonka-vator), mate often, and hunt like a bolt of lightning. This is the Dragonfly living ‘in’ the moment: where one remains finitely, keen, in the know, focused. And hungry.
We don’t change skins though, like the Dragonfly nymph, as much as we change circumstances. Personas and moods if you will. Does this, I ask you, bring us back to a teen suicide riding in the same drawn carriage as a teen pregnancy? The dad removes himself from the picture…removes himself even from being an idea for the whole picture. The picture now is, well, broken. Was his situation really as dire so as to see himself compelled not to choose between Scylla and Charybdis, essentially choosing instead not the lesser of two evils but just evil period? A selfless life devoted to the mother of his child and the child itself would have served as his salvation and yet the selfish exit, his Scylla and Charybdis, guided him toward the whirling mind, the bells. Were his options really that narrow? Oh youth, to be wrapped around that finger of your desire for a compound eye which fails you over and over; what you think you see often renders as extreme opposite what actually is there. Scylla and Charybdis were nymphs once upon a time, long before being turned into the monsters popularized…scratch that…terrorizing sailors in Homer’s Odyssey.
But you and your classmates didn’t see this coming. You couldn’t have. Nobody did. You, most of you, knew that he and she were young lovers. Lots of people your age are. No disgrace in that. But there is a certain shame in not using some measure of precaution amidst the furious issuance of body fluids: in a word not using contraception. A young man’s life has literally been extinguished right before thousands of eyes. I had no knowledge of him, nor the thousands of sexed up others like him – young men and women - prior to hearing about him by way of his final act on this earth and how said act affected my wife’s niece.
And I do not need to recapitulate teenage suicide rates for anyone reading. Look around you, look into your community and your schools and your recently repaved streets or any old mall or church in town; their residue remains, their scent, their juju. Numbers demean the memories; divide and bracket them into smaller sums and remainders.
Able to track prey, or multiple targets let’s say, simultaneously using that massive compound eye; able to intercept – with more ruthless precision than a looped drum machine - and de-wing (literally shredding its prey’s wings off in mid-flight and thus reducing the hapless bug helpless) its meal. A 95% success rate in the hunt. I can think of no other creature – human or otherwise – with such a success rate. A reaction time of 30-milliseconds: reaction to prey, to changes in wind and environment. Able to see and process approximately 200 images per second; humans it seems have topped off at 60 images per second.
Heft of Blade, Flit of Wing
I do not know all of the details. Let’s just say his action caused ripples. Here I am writing about his suicide only because I know it had an effect on Dianne’s niece. I feel for her. Niece said he and she had become friends during after school pre-arranged activities. They swapped secrets. Felt as though they had an understanding of each other. I was asked by the niece’s mother if I would perhaps have a word with her child. The mother asked this because she says that the niece respects Dianne and I, she listens to us. Not sure I believe that. Yes my father took his own life though that hardly qualifies me as an expert on alcoholism or depression or even guns for that matter. The niece is a child, a teenage child. She listens to herself and entertains the chatter of those around her. I do know that she felt afraid. Afraid to be at her school, afraid to be at any high school in the San Fernando Valley in the days following Florida. Guns. Threats of guns. And the turmoil surrounding the intentional loss of life. I believe teens to be more resilient than generally given credit for by the adults that hover and buzz around them. She was understandably wigged out for anyone, at any time of day or night, could be next. Guns are incidental to her very real fear. And what of the boy’s family?
Make me a Postcard…
Pterostigma; an evolutionary edge eluding the noose of slow time and rapid change.
The prefix ptero comes to us from the ancient Greek meaning ‘wing’ or ‘feather’. And stigma…well. It is not without its negative and/or biblical associations either: stigma can mean ‘a mark of disgrace’ or even outright shame while the stigmata (plural) is most often seen to represent the marks from the Crucifixion left on Jesus’ body. Suicide leaves in its wake a stigma upon those still beating, bleeding from the core.
Pterostigma is present on a few species of insects and remains a vital component of the wing structure. Pterostigma adds a measure of mass to the wings. Without it self-exciting vibrations would create aerial chaos and eventually make gliding effectively near impossible, the kind of gliding one does when hunting for food or seeking to mate. Or, as we average Homosapiens are wont do about things we do not inherently possess or thoroughly comprehend, we refer to it as a mark of distinction.
Towards the end of The Hellstrom Chronicle, one Dr. Nils Hellstrom (the fictitious narrator played with equal measures of doom and sinister glee by Lawrence Pressman ) is commenting on the beautiful efficiency of a termite colony. He uses the phrase “…condemned by their inflexible programming…” regarding the sanctity and continued survival of that colony and its queens. And I found myself wondering if the same inflexibility applies to us both broadly as a species and in a much more focused sense on those of us with, perhaps, faults in our wiring. Because taking to the sky as an insect around a stilled body of water is likely an anti-endgame, as in one is risking and/or consciously seeking a swift, conclusive demise, a very literal acquisition of an end. An adult dragonfly, depending on the species, can eat anywhere from 30 to 100 mosquitoes in a day. Can you imagine the dragonflies of our previously mentioned epic disaster movie, large enough to eat babies at that rate, or 25 teens a day, 15 adults? Brutal. I think all they would have to remove from us would be the head because seriously, what’s the point; not much meat, heavy with dreams and confusions, fears and ennui. Terrifying stuff the human head. Stick it on a pole, a stake, and leave it behind.
Leave it all behind. Without regret. Without regard. Almost all of it. The exception being life. Grab that life by the ears…the end blah
Sean Mahoney lives with his wife, her mother, two Uglydolls, and three dogs in Santa Ana, California. He works in geophysics. He believes in salsa, dark chocolate, and CBD.