Dragonfly

September 2, 2005 | 15 comments
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Early this morning my children clattered out the door to the schoolyard across the street, where they returned to freedom a tiny ground frog they’d captured yesterday. When stillness refilled the house—this took longer than you’d think, especially at that hour—I rolled out of bed, found a shirt and slippers, and followed them outdoors. From the front porch I could see their uncombed heads huddled over a patch of mudclay in the lawn; I called to them and they came running, barefoot and shouting, up the driveway.

nullThey’d found a dragonfly, dead, perfectly preserved, which my dauntless girl brandished in triumph. (This is the four-year-old who thinks nothing of battering at the hairy spider reigning in the basement.) We took the creature inside, examined it minutely, and then, naturally, scanned it and googled “dragonfly anatomy.” (These are the preschool-adepts who beg me daily for their “own kids’ email” as they navigate their bookmarks.)

Some beautiful objects defeat description, like those two blond heads hovering above the mud, and some, like the dragonfly, absolutely demand it. The insect’s head was dominated by its coppery compound eye, two lobes scattering light with a million scintillas. The thorax arched into a sort of jeweled chartreuse carapace between the wings. Those four broad wings spanned nearly five inches, black-veined and paned like stained-glass windows, and tinted lemony-amber along the top rail. A brilliant turquoise bulb at the base of the thorax let go the taper of its abdomen, meticulously reticulated and, at that early stage, flexible along its length.

The living issue of the natural world, the beautiful and the terrible together, show us God the Creator: All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing Alleluia! It’s proper and good—dulce et decorum—for creature to acknowledge creator, as the clay does the potter, and I think God is pleased to receive praise ascending from the watered ground and the clay grown tall.

In truth, though, the loveliness of the fly focused me less on its status as creature than on its passage as organism; less, that is, on its muddy origin than on its muddy end. This is in part because dead things are so often very beautiful; to admire a sleeping child, wrapped in death’s second self, is to sense the fearful, intimate mystique of the just-dead. This pleases God too, I think. Christ blighted the fig tree not to revive it again, not, this time, to subdue death, but to claim its withered limbs, together with earth and unruly sea, for faith.

On the Sabbath Christ mixed a clay of spittle and dust to anoint a blind man’s eyes. In that earthy poultice he mingled the elements of life with the locus of death, and the man came seeing. In the the end it is not, perhaps, for God to show us life and death, but for life and death to show us God.

15 Responses to Dragonfly

  1. Wilfried on September 2, 2005 at 1:14 pm

    Brilliant, Rosalynde, just brilliant. To reread several times and enjoy each time more.

  2. Adam Greenwood on September 2, 2005 at 1:39 pm

    Well and good.

  3. Rosalynde on September 2, 2005 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you, Wifried and Adam. Praise especially sweet from your poets’ souls.

  4. The Wiz on September 2, 2005 at 2:17 pm

    Beautiful as always, Rosalynde. Your posts are so well written, I always love reading them – so far this is without exception.

    Awaiting the poorly written post of Rosalynde’s — probably waiting forever……..

  5. William Morris on September 2, 2005 at 3:34 pm

    Simply lovely. Your description of the dragonfly makes me weep (with joy) and gnash my teeth (with envy).

    —-

    I’ve been thinking a lot about that fig tree this past year. I haven’t worked things out quite yet, but something about an old man coming and chopping it down and crafting something from the wood.

  6. Mark on September 2, 2005 at 3:50 pm

    Certain mayflies live for only 24 hours. They mature, mate, and die in a day, “fulfilling the measure of their creation”. From the perspective of eternity, they are hopelessly insignificant, and yet they are some of the creatures and the “creeping things” that God called forth from the chaos.

  7. Brian G on September 2, 2005 at 5:35 pm

    Nice.

  8. Ryan Bell on September 2, 2005 at 5:43 pm

    This is so bizarre. Just five days ago I was strolling on a golf course with my son and nieces and nephew (and always-in-the-way brother) when we came upon a beautiful, struggling dragonfly on the fairway. His fuselage was brilliant, spotted blue, with the cockpit domed eyes full of flash and mute beauty. We all remarked on how interesting he was, and sat there for minutes just staring at him before wandering on to other distractions. No stunning prose came from the adventure, but it still made me think about God’s creation.

    What I’m saying is, I’m totally down with this post, RFW.

  9. Ben H on September 2, 2005 at 6:08 pm

    “And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.” (John 17:10)

    He gives a glory even to the dragonflies.

  10. Susan M on September 2, 2005 at 11:19 pm

    Beautifully written! (But man, I think dragonflies are gross.)

  11. Naomi Frandsen on September 3, 2005 at 9:52 am

    I loved reading this, Rosalynde. I wish I had read it yesterday. (I got a family tip-off that you had posted something)

  12. Kevin Barney on September 3, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    Your children are lucky to have you for a mum, Rosalynde.

  13. kristen j on September 3, 2005 at 7:39 pm

    Very nice. I fell in love with dragonflies one summer floating down the Colorado on an innertube. As they were flying around they would occassionally land on my knee for a brief rest. It was fun to really study them for a moment. They are beautiful creatures.

  14. Paul Frandsen on September 4, 2005 at 10:59 pm

    Great post Rosalynde. I have to admit I jumped to the end to catch the point…however, I repented of my ways, reread and loved what I found.

  15. Rosalynde Welch on September 4, 2005 at 11:09 pm

    Thank you, all, for your lovely contributions.