September 19, 2005 Newsletter

As summer begins to wind down and autumn approaches, I find myself outside walking in the cooler temps more and more.  One of those occasions recently stimulated some thought-provoking reflections.


On Dragonflies’ Wings

By: Rhonda Jones

I’m not sure how old I was before I saw my first dragonfly and, even when I finally did, I don’t recall being all that impressed.  I didn’t know then that they are among the most ancient living creatures.  But now, with age and, hopefully, wisdom, I have begun to pay more attention to such things.  Still, I do have to admit, although I’m sure dragonflies play an important role in wetland ecology, that knowledge was not the primary stimulus behind my fascination.  Unfortunately, it takes more than mere environmentalism to pique my interest.  For me, the attraction really took shape when I saw the Kevin Costner movie, Dragonfly.

The plot was built upon the idea that, because dragonflies are so rarely seen, they capture our attention when they do make their fleeting appearances.  This was turned into a metaphor for the signs we receive at certain times through one or more of our five senses—those important messages—which are meant to guide our life course or enlighten us in some profound way.  Like dragonflies, those signs float by on the breeze and, if we don’t pay attention, we’ll miss them.  I would like to believe that a dragonfly is actually sent to get my attention, when it’s waning perhaps a little too much.  So, whenever I see a dragonfly, I become intentionally more alert to the potential signs I might have otherwise missed.

Yes, this idea of signs and messages is a little metaphysical, maybe too much so for some of you.  Nevertheless, in this subtle manner I personally have experienced enough of these little (and some no-so-little) revelations in my lifetime, that I’m now a confirmed believer.  If nothing else, it’s simply a reminder to listen more closely to the voice of spirit in my head . . . and in my heart.  So you should be able to imagine how I felt, when on my Sunday evening walk, I turned the corner and walked smack into a whole swarm of dragonflies.

We’re blessed in Knoxville to have such easy access to a myriad of walking trails and hiking destinations, not to mention the miles of streets, lining all the tranquil housing developments, providing easy and safe running or biking paths.  Among all these possibilities, the 2.2-mile trail located within the sixty-acre Lakeshore Park has become my regular stop for a little exercise near my home.  Lakeshore Greenway, as it’s called, is a paved, well-lighted loop trail that is dotted with welcoming benches, winds around the baseball, soccer, and playground facilities located within the park, meanders underneath massive hardwoods and evergreen trees, moderately climbs to peaks with breathtaking views of the Tennessee River, and descends occasionally into green tree-canopied tunnels.

It was on one of those low spots in the trail, alongside the river, where I encountered the dragonflies.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  It looked like the opening scene of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, in which the unsuspecting stroller in the park asks, “Wonder why there are so many dragonflies?” right before they are engulfed amidst piercing Tippy Hedron-like screams.

“Are those dragonflies?”  I incredulously asked my walking companion.  “I think so.” He replied with equal astonishment.  There were literally hundreds, their erratic flight patterns making them look a bit like ultra-miniature biplane replicas being remote-controlled by a young child hidden behind a nearby bush.  Gazing through the rapid flapping of their rice-paper wings created a feeling of walking through a haze, as we stepped lively to the humming around our heads.  “I’ve never seen so many at once!”  I almost whispered breathlessly.

Not being an expert in the habits of the dragonfly, I wondered if this was some sort of prehistoric insect mating ritual.  I watched them for several seconds, unable to discern if they were agitated or having fun, before losing interest in their erratic movements. 

Nonetheless, my mind was racing.  If we’re supposed to become more attentive when we see one dragonfly, what in the world are we supposed to do when we see a whole gaggle?!  What kind of sign-to-end-all-signs might we possibly be on the cusp of receiving?  Would the clouds literally open up and a booming voice call down from the heavens?  The logic of my dragonfly metaphor would certainly portend an event such as that.  But, alas, the logic of my earthly existence instructs me to be a little more practical (and less melodramatic) in my expectations.  So rather than staring at the sky for the remainder of my walk, instead I began to intently observe all that was happening around me.

It was a beautiful evening for our 7:00 p.m. stroll.  Finally the sweltering days of summer had seemed to pass, along with the last tail-whips of Hurricane Ophelia, leaving behind the promising beginnings of a delightful autumn.  Evening temps were beginning to dip toward the seventies and even sixties in the later hours, creating extremely pleasant conditions on the trial.  From the top of the hill, the gorgeous sun strolled across the beautiful blue sky toward nighttime, the mighty river glimmered in peaceful solitude, and the air was adorned by a delightful musky fragrance.  Yet, despite these very pleasing conditions, I couldn’t help noticing we had almost the entire greenway to ourselves.  Although it was nice to have so much solitude on the trail, it did seem a shame, with so many good folks needing exercise, for the beautiful park to be so underutilized.

Something else, also, disturbed our tranquil stroll.  Piles and piles of fallen leaves filled the path and crunched loudly under our feet.  We commented that the trees have begun losing so many leaves and going dormant so much earlier these days.  I was trying to analyze that situation, when I made a new discovery.  Three of the greenway’s beautiful shade trees—two large pines and one grand oak—which had graced the passing of many a foot traveler, had been cut down.  We’d watched them die slowly all summer, and now looked away from the ghostly stumps as in shame over their plight.  I shook my head at the other nearby oak standing guard on this particular bend in the trail.  Its brown leaves and shaggy appearance promised it would soon suffer the same fate.  What a shame, I thought, as I walked underneath the towering sentry.  The trail won’t be the same without them.

Walking around the bend and scanning the horizon revealed that the baseball fields stood empty, but a soccer game had gotten underway.  The well-landscaped and manicured playing field, perfectly sloped to enable drainage, rose slightly above where we traveled, lending the teenage players an aura of mighty titans.  They moved with agility and grace and, although I know little about the sport of soccer, for a moment the ease with which they glided across the lush green grass left me mesmerized.

One, two, three . . . I began to count the players in my head . . . twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty.  Thirty young boys between the two teams, the substitutes for both squads lining one side of the field.  Across the way on the other side, spectators stood talking to one another with arms folded and lounging in folding camp chairs and on the verdant ground.  Predictably, I began to count again.  One, two, three . . . twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four.  Twenty-four spectators and a good third of them children.  I was surprised by the meager turnout.  Envisioning the robot from the old TV series, Lost in Space, I heard his standard line, “Does not compute.  Does not compute.”  Thirty players.  At least one parent in attendance per player should equal a minimum of thirty adults in attendance.  Not so.  There were maybe sixteen.

I caught myself shaking my head in disappointment again, just as I had over the unutilized trail, and just as I had over the dying shade trees.  Why wouldn’t their parents come to see them displaying their athletic prowess, passed to them in part, no doubt, through their shared DNA?  This time of life passes so quickly, I thought, and soon their sons and daughters will have moved on to live their own lives, leaving these brief and precious opportunities in the dust.  What could these young men’s parents possibly find more interesting on a beautiful Sunday evening than the achievement of their own offspring?  Whatever it was, it was unforgivable in my book.  For me, who never had the opportunity to have a child of my own, it was an unsolvable mystery.

Determined to not dwell on such negative thoughts, I endeavored to renew my optimism as well as my reconnaissance for the dragonflies’ signs.  Up ahead I caught sight of a father walking slowly beside his young daughter who teetered on her bike at a snail’s pace.  We gained ground steadily, until I could see them quite clearly.  Her classic pink bicycle, complete with pink training wheels and pink and silver streamers from each handlebar, matched the tiny pink flowers in her dainty dress.  Her lilac helmet was covered with a flock of pink and white butterflies.  She concentrated furiously on her uncertain peddling, until she heard the sounds of children coming from the playground in the approaching turn.  Suddenly the diminutive cycling novice looked like Lance Armstrong, swinging one leg over, without ever removing her hands from the handles and walking right off her bike in one easy motion, leaving the once treasured contraption standing abandoned on the trail as she walked entranced toward the monkey bars.  Her patient father paused and waited quietly by the forgotten toy.

I smiled when I’d gained enough ground to see her angelic face.  The lily white skin, glowing cheeks, and eager yet unsure eyes, reminded me of a soft little white rabbit escaping for the first time from its cage.  Such innocence.  Such potential.  Her whole life in front of her, with her dad standing behind her.  What lessons will she learn?  What hardships will she endure?  What joys will she experience?  What kind of world will she grow up in?  What state will we leave it in for her?  What difference will she make?

I wondered, as I continued on down the trail and left the delighted children playing behind me, oblivious in their youthful glee to any messages that the dragonflies’ might have carried on their wings this day.  Walking the last few steps in silence, I pondered the evening stroll.  It had been great exercise, as usual, and extremely pleasant weather, for a change.  But, pity, the initial excitement of the dragonflies’ appearance had subsided into melancholy.  The greatly anticipated, earthshaking sign . . . the critical message I’d expected to receive, alas, had not been delivered.


Or was it?