Wednesday, May 20, 2009

To Be Born

Have you ever seen a just-born child? The small figure is luminous--so infused with the energy of becoming that the outlines of his or her body appear to waver like a mirage. Even the most cynical of us can't help but be awed. The word miracle rises to the lips.

I had a similar experience on a dragonfly foray with a naturalist friend last Saturday.
We were at a low water bridge on the Cacapon River in Morgan County, West Virginia. It was one of those days in May that foretell the heat and humidity of July. We seemed to have entered a giant incubation chamber, for life was hatching all around us.

Cool water from weeks of spring rain flowed between banks of freshly leaved trees, newly sprouted grasses, and wildflowers budding or in bloom. The sun's rays danced through the air, setting all things green ashimmer.

Tiger and zebra swallow-tailed butterflies flitted in small clouds and flocked to sip at puddles. Their wings looked impossibly fragile. Not a tatter or speck of dust marred the patterns of creamy yellow, pale celadon and inky black. A drop of columbine red punctuated the base of each wing like the dot of a exclamation mark.

A green heron with a watchful eye rimmed in gold perched motionless on a snag midstream. Flashing scarlet helmets and bars of black and white, two male red-bellied woodpeckers alighted at the base of a sycamore. They hesitated, artfully askew on the pale trunk. I imagined them as bright enameled jewelry adorning the breast of a 1940's screen siren.

Dragonflies had recently passed through their metamorphosis from aquatic larvae to airborne adults. They cruised the river's edge like miniature hovercraft. Each was escorted, in perfect formation, by the image of a watery twin.

Low to the ground, tiny native bees meandered here and there to gather nectar. A brown water snake slithered through the shallows. All the while, the insistent murmur of American toads played as background music.

My friend snared an Applachian Jewelwing damselfly with her net. It was an immature male--still only half dressed in its armor of emerald green. She gently folded its wings to meet above the thorax and passed it to me. The finely veined gossamer was slightly damp and clung to my fingers.

The word nature descends from the Latin nasci "to be born." Capturing bits of data is often the goal of observation in the field. There is a special excitement as another piece of a giant puzzle slips into place. But what I most enjoy is seeing the world as if revealed for the first time. Deep in my bones, I sense the truth of how all of us--plants, insects, animals, humans--are made of the same stuff. We are born from the same mother. My heart flutters as I whisper a single word: miracle.