Working in England this week while my four month old daughter and her mother are in Spain, I am, newly, unaccustomed to being alone. But animals fill my imagination as I work on the Book of Barely Imagined Beings. And animal presences grace the air and water around me too.
Early yesterday morning I startled a large heron in the golden light down by the river. It took flight and came to rest on a middle branch of a giant, green-glowing ash tree on the opposite bank. And, as I looked, a fox trotted noiselessly under the ash. Today I was startled by a loud rattle and thud in my office and turned to see an astonishingly, other-wordly large dragonfly bouncing against the walls and skylights. For a moment I thought of the ancient dragonfly-like Meganeurid, the largest flying insect that ever lived, which had a wingspan of nearly three feet. The dragonfly in my office was about five inches across but that is big enough!
The diversity with which dragonflies are regarded in different cultures is also astonishing. In much of European folklore they are seen as malevolent. In one Swedish story, for example, the devil uses dragonflies to weigh people's souls; in another, trolls use dragonflies as spindles when weaving their clothes. In Japan, by contrast, dragonflies are symbols of courage, strength, and happiness.
My office room has three skylights and two windows. All of them were closed. Each of these would attract a bee, wasp or fly that could indefinitely hurl themselves against the glass. But in less than ten seconds the dragonfly flew out the open doorway into the light. This suggests that dragonflies have better vision than some other flying insects. I read that they have close to 360° field vision from their 30,000 eyes. Now what must that be like?