It’s about this time of year that the woods simmer down. The trails empty, and I’m usually one of only a handful of folks swimming through the humidity, watching rivulets of sweat carry away all the ticks and mosquitoes drowsily climbing my calves. Birders here generally throw in the towel after the curtain drops on Act One: Migration. Mushroom season is weeks away. And there I am, virtuously combing the trails for instances of quiet summer magic.
Scene: a steamy July afternoon. The sun has just crossed the meridian, casting its harshest light down on my bare head. Flies orbit my face at snooze speed, still handily evading my lazy swats and curses. Birds I expect to hear — towhees (“Drink your TEA!”), mewling catbirds, bickering chickadees — preserve the sulky silence. Even the crickets have crawled under the leaves to snooze away the heat of the day. The ripe blueberries are cooking on their branches, but that’s actually delicious, the only perk so far of this soupy stroll.
It dawns on me, as I watch for about an hour, that these bug bombers are an ideal substitute for birds. They’re so easy to watch! Look how distinct their markings are! Males and females seem to have different markings, interestingly. What must it be like to live at dragonfly speed, at 30-something miles per hour? Does the day feel longer when you’re that small, ravenous and relentless? And then I realize I’ll need to make room on my groaning shelf for yet another field guide…
Some of the dragonfly species will perch for minutes at a time, giving me plenty of time to sort them into kinds. Blues, and Jet Blacks, and Tigers, in my homespun vernacular. But there’s one species that blasts by without pausing. It never touches down. I can’t get a grip on it.
That’s the best view I get of it the whole time I stand there. It buzzes away faster than I can focus my lens. I’ve got lots of shots of the tail-end of a living blur, blurs I come to call the Damn Raspberries. As in, “I’ll wait here for 5 more minutes, you Damn Raspberry, and if you don’t hold still by then, I’m leaving!”
I say it five times, and not a single one pauses for a portrait. The nerve. Maybe I’ll get a shot the next time I come looking.
And so it goes: another creature to draw me out of my air conditioned apartment, another suite of field marks to muddle through, another field guide to seek out and stack on my bedside table.