Conditions weren't promising for a thrilling wildlife sighting. Our Adirondack front yard had been turned inside out by an excavating machine. Our septic system had failed, and a contractor was building us a new one. The machine operator was about to climb into his seat for another day of digging when I noticed something brightly colored, shimmering on the ground like a lost piece of jewelry.
It was a dragonfly, a green darner, a migrant heading south, the first we'd ever seen at our place.
When I was a kid, there were adults who called dragonflies "darning needles." It was claimed that the insects sought out children who talked too much and sewed their lips shut. This didn't make sense to me. Dragonflies seemed incapable of sewing, and if they were going to stitch lips closed, I figured they'd start by silencing adults who tried to trick kids into being quiet, while making them unnecessarily afraid of dragonflies in the process.
Was the darner alive? Maybe. So before I picked it up, I snapped a few photos in case it flew off the moment I disturbed it.
Then I lifted the creature gently in my fingers. Not instantly, but soon, its delicate transparent wings began to vibrate. Soon they were buzzing at a fast hum. The darner was warming up for flight. Dragonflies have sophisticated adaptations for maintaining a steady body temperature. In fact, their systems for getting warm and staying warm are arguably more sophisticated than our own.
I headed for a giant sunflower on which I aimed to pose the dragonfly for a photo. Unfortunately, I ran out of time. With a brisk whirr of wings, the darner lifted straight up helicopter-style, rose into a blue and brilliant morning sky, and shot off to the west.
The episode left me in a rapture. I was astonished by how beautiful the insect was, its head and thorax colored an exquisite metallic green, its wings elegantly veined and softly gilded. I was amazed, too, that in the middle of what I'm inclined to call the darner's forehead, appeared a convincing facsimile of the CBS News logo.