Back to Nature (Published on - April 6, 2006)
A Ruby birthday on a misty morning
Photo by Rick Tremmel
Dragonfly: When stationary the dragonfly holds its wings in a horizontal position. The damselfly, which is slightly smaller, holds its wings in an upward and backward position.
The thick fog settled hovering just above the surface of the lake, smudging the horizon line making sky and land appear as one. Silver light fell across the water, rippled from fish jumps.

Water-strider insects, agile skaters on mirrored ice, scooted out of harm’s way, as I eased the canoe into the cool water’s edge. Sandals and binoculars slung over my shoulder, I waded a ways in until the boat broke free of ground, then carefully stepped inside.

Ruby, my sweet old, still somewhat elegant, black, standard poodle was already comfortably seated having leaped in from shore. March 31, 2006 salutes Ruby’s 14th birthday. As my constant companion and confidant, we decided to celebrate.

Almost silently the oar sliced into the water. I’ve become familiar with this river. I know where the current runs fast pulling a canoe along free for nearly a 2-mile stretch. I know where the alligators live and where a great-blue heron returns every year to raise her brood.

We were in this familiar current heading east toward where I’d remembered seeing wide expanses of water lilies with yellow and white blossoms the year before. From a tall, barren tree an osprey stood vigil. Steering out of the current, we glided past a pair of male and female blue-winged teals. Ruby raised her nose. I whispered, “No.” She rested against the railing again.

Surrounded by large crops of cattails, a small peninsula jutted out into the lake. This is where the alligators sun themselves. Beyond is a bay of water lilies. Wide branching trees shelter that bay. Lake waves have washed their roots smooth leaving a tangle of snake-like appendages reaching out into the waters.

As the lily patch thickens, maneuvering becomes increasingly difficult, so I take to poling. We enter the center of a ring of water lilies where we can sit and rest relatively motionless.

Opening our lunch box, I offer Ruby a birthday hamburger while I snack on a power bar. The sun glitters on the open water with only a few patches of fog remaining in shadowed places. Drops of water swirl over the lily leaves making watercolor designs. Dragonflies and damselflies move briskly in all directions around us, swooping to grasp their prey while still in flight.

You can identify the difference between these two relatives by the angle of their wings. When stationary the dragonfly holds its wings in a horizontal position. The damselfly, which is slightly smaller, holds its wings in an upward and backward position.

The flight of the dragonfly also differs from the damselfly. The dragonfly is swift and powerful. Some accounts estimate the dragonflies at speeds between 35 and 60 mph. Their excellent eyesight, strong jaws and skilled hunting abilities have given them the reputation of being known as the tigers of the insect world. Dragonflies are predatory in all their stages.

Dragonflies and damselflies (Odonata) are brightly colored in shades of blue, brown, black, green and red on their long slender bodies and have two pairs of transparent, veined wings. Both species mate in flight. The females deposit their eggs in water near floating plant masses like the water lilies that surrounded our canoe.

Damselflies and dragonflies feed on other insect larvae, such as mosquito larvae in great numbers, while they mature in their aquatic nurseries.

The canoe rose and fell with the ebb and flow of the river. The harbor was a restful, peaceful place away from people, traffic and human woes. I wondered how it must have been for the Native peoples or the settlers before me. I wondered whether a similar wolf and friend made this passage together in days gone by. How would the sky have looked?

Did the foggy mist rise from warm water painting everything in a glistening gray like today? I wondered if my old pal and I would celebrate another birthday together and pushed those thoughts away before tears came. Then I smiled and thanked Creator for moments like these, while drifting on a sea of water lilies pondering dragonflies and damselflies on a misty birthday morning … back to nature.

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