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Brother to a Dragonfly

August 30, 2010

 

As a boy, I was fishing with my grandfather. I had not had even a nibble on my fishing line.  Dragonflies were darting all around.  One hovered close to me, and I was afraid. Then, it disappeared from my sight. 

My grandfather could still see it. “He is on the brim of your hat.  Hold really still.” 

I did just as Pappy instructed. In a few minutes, the insect flew away.

“Don’t worry. They don’t sting,” Pappy said, “Now, you’ll catch fish.” 

Within just a short time, I had a bass on the bank.  Before the afternoon was over, I had also caught several bream. 

Appalachian folklore says that if a dragonfly lights nearby while you are fishing, you are going to have good luck.  If he does not stop, you might as well pack up and go home.  You are not going to catch any fish. That day it was the truth. 

Last week I saw a pair of blue dragonflies stalking prey above the pond in my garden. The predatory insects are always welcome guests in our yard. They are reputed to have a voracious appetite.  In half an hour’s time, they can consume their own weight in mosquitoes. 

 There are 6000 varieties of dragonflies, each one unique. Sometimes they are called snake doctors and darners.  People in Old England believed that falling asleep during the daytime was dangerous. They thought this insect with a body like a darning needle would sew your eyes shut as the penalty for laziness. 

It’s enough to scare you out of an afternoon nap! 

Dragonflies have also been called horse stingers.  People thought that they were doing the stinging. In fact, they were pursuing horseflies, the real pests.  Sometimes they have been called mosquito hawks; a name that really fits because of their preference for the little bloodsuckers. 

The Boeing Corporation in Seattle, Washington, has filmed dragonflies in flight. After taking a close look at this small insect, engineers were amazed at their aerodynamics.  They concluded that the dragonfly is a highly perfected flying machine. 

Some dragonflies fly at speeds up to sixty miles an hour. The average cruising speed for a dragonfly is about ten miles an hour.  They can fly backwards.  They can dart from side to side.  They can stop in mid-flight and hover.

The secret is the two pair of wings that work independently of each other.  The front two wings simply churn the air, creating disturbance.  The back two wings provide the stability. 

Researchers say that the dragonfly creates turbulence, whereas aircraft try to avoid it. Engineers say that it is impossible to approximate this mechanically. Their conclusion is that the flying ability of the dragonfly is superior to anything the Boeing Corporation can manufacture. 

The entire island of Japan was at one time called the Island of the Dragonfly. Legend has it that a gadfly bit a Japanese emperor.  No sooner had he been bitten than a dragonfly ate the gadfly.  The emperor saw that a friend, the dragonfly, had attacked the one who accosted him.  From that day forward, he decreed that the whole island of Japan be called the Island of the Dragonfly. 

Samurai warriors thought that the dragonfly was such a ferocious fighter that they wore leather helmets with the design of the insect etched on the front. 

The Lakota Indians of the northern Great Plains considered the dragonfly to be a fierce hunter. A dragonfly motif is common in Native American beadwork. The Navaho people of the desert southwest regarded the presence of a dragonfly as an indication of pure water, something very important to people who live in arid conditions.  They often incorporated the image of the dragonfly into their sand paintings.

Like the butterfly, the dragonfly is a symbol of immortality. 

The life cycle of the dragonfly leads to this assumption.  Dragonflies mate in mid-air, quite a feat! Eggs are deposited in the water.  Eventually the larvae crawl out of the water and attach to a reed.  Its skin becomes hardened, creating a cocoon. 

Then a transformation takes place.  Before long, the chrysalis splits.  A brand new body emerges from the dead shell.  The gauze-like wings unfold, and a colorful and sleek dragonfly takes to the air. 

No wonder the dragonfly has become a sign of new life!

Will Campbell, a Baptist minister who does not fit the mold, grew up in rural Mississippi with his brother, Joe.  One of Will Campbell’s gifts is writing.

In his book Brother to a Dragonfly, he tells about an experiment Joe conducted with a dragonfly. The two boys followed a path across a field through the woods down to the river. Three days earlier, Joe had buried a dragonfly in an aspirin box. In the soft mud Joe dug up the box. When he opened it, the dragonfly flew out.

Joe turned to Will and said, “He’s just like Jesus. He was buried in the ground for three days.  He’s still alive.”

In 1941, at Joe’s funeral, Will related the story referring to Joe as brother to a dragonfly.

A few years ago, I conducted a graveside funeral service. The widow of the deceased wore on her black dress a silver pin crafted in the likeness of a dragonfly.

“My husband gave this to me. It is a symbol of hope.”  

 Kirk H. Neely
© August 2010
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