I have a cottage on the Betsie River in Northwest Michigan, with a dock upriver and swimming stairs further down. In the afternoons, when the shrubbery affords a canopy of shade, I like to sit on the dock in my beach chair and read. Green and Great Blue Herons and sometimes a family of Mergansers or Wood Ducks interrupt my reading delightfully. Every now and then inexplicably tame mink scurry across my feet, but my most frequent visitors are damselflies that like to perch on my knee.
Are they refugees from the copulatory turmoil all around us, all that dashing and darting at each other of iridescent swains vying to mate with the coal black females?
When I found damselflies feeding on fern fronds in the forest, a helpful Twitterer explained that they only hang around the river to mate, wandering far afield to forage
I was unaware until we caught a damselfly nymph in our net that they molt several times underwater before emerging to metamorphose and mate.
And that’s what I have learned about damselflies. Let me tell you what, far away and long ago, I learned from them.
When I was eighteen I had a summer job waiting tables at an island resort in Maine. I was a very priggish Christian at that time, with Victorian ideas about sex inculcated by my mother. Sex was not a good thing, she insisted; any girl at all interested in it was deplorable. To do her justice, there was no birth control or legal abortion in those days; if I had sex I might get pregnant, “ruining” my life and plunging my family into shame.
But there was a waiter just my age who exuded sexuality from every pore, sparking my latent sensuality to rise up and glow with urgency. This didn’t feel bad; but how could it be good?
And that’s where the damselflies came in. On my hours off I would take a canoe and explore the marshy areas around the island, and it was there, amid the sunny greens and golden warmth of an August afternoon, that I was surrounded by wheel upon wheel of importunate damselflies, stuck upon each other in dazzling hearts and circles.
Another thing my mother always said was that the green world was full of meaning and that if I “tucked a love of nature under my belt” I would always find solace. On that lovely summer afternoon of my awakening sensuality damselflies became Angels of Mercy with their message that, as Blake puts it, “the soul of sweet delight can never be defiled.”