A Short Course in Dragonfly Resuscitation

Nonfiction

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     When Jody needed an insect collection for Dr. Lowell’s course, she said, “I won’t kill a bunch of harmless bugs just to pass a class.”

     “I always find dead bugs in the pool on my way to school, Jody. I’ll bring you some.”

     Next morning I rolled up my sleeping bag on the ridge, hiked down to the desert pool to wash up and brush my teeth, picked out three drowned bugs, dropped them into a roomy side pocket of my backpack, and jogged down to the ranch where I parked my bicycle.

     I met Jody on the mall in front of the university library.

     “You have my bugs?”
     “Three good ones,” I said with the pride of Hemingway’s Robert Wilson after a successful safari.

     But when I opened the side pocket, the yellowjacket wasp flew straight up into blue sky. The drag- onfly then flitted a low course over the grassy mall. The horse lubber grasshopper showed its big green head as it climbed the coarse fabric of the backpack to freedom.

     “What the hell,” said Jody, her blond ponytail bobbing in agitation.

     Insects breathe through body tissues. The three had tumbled and revived in a wash of air on the bouncy hike down from the pool and the bike ride in. Jody may still believe I played a rotten joke on her, but I’d learned a valuable trick. In one serendipitous moment I’d learned all I needed to know about how to bring a bug back to life.

     Next time I found a drowned dragonfly, I fished it out of the water and waved it in the air.

     I can’t say dragonfly resuscitation is easy. With only brief pauses to watch for the pulsating abdo- men that signaled its active absorption of oxygen through spiracles there, my arm grew heavy over the twenty minutes I waved. My hopes that the dragonfly would stir dwindled.

     Then I felt the tickle as its feet scrambled against my palm. I gripped its long body between thumb and forefinger and held its churning legs near a stem. It grabbed hold.

     Ten minutes later it regained its senses and flew off without a thank-you-very-much, and not a bit the wiser. It would live to mate and spread its genes to a new generation. They’d be blessed with no more sense than their dad, and most would probably drown while doing what your average, smarter dragonfly considers routine. But then, what a tale I’d have to tell when I showed the photo of that turquoise beauty with clear, lace-veined wings, inches from my camera lens.

     I moved up into the oak wood and commuted for one more semester of college, by then a sev- en-hour roundtrip. Then I moved higher still, into the big pines much farther from town, and an eight-year course on who I was and what mattered most to me.

Walker Thomas wandered into Southern Arizona sky island wilderness for a summer and stayed eight years. His nonfiction has appeared in Outside, Natural History, Adelaide, The Green Mountains Re- view, and the small-college anthologies, Stories from the Other Side: Thematic Memoirs, fifth and sixth editions (2009 and 2011), Francis Edward Crowley, PhD, Editor, and The Freshman Writer as Artist: A Reader, Rhetoric and Stylebook, edited by James Prothero, 2010.