The Dragonfly, The Common Green Darner, Brings Beauty and Service.

Monday was partially overcast, seventy-three, and clearly a typical day here in the heartland. Maybe it was a lazy day, in that I found myself dozing off, but I am supposed to be retired and this, only a few years ago, would be great day to work outdoors. Still in a walk-about-the-grounds, early-morning state of mind, a ruckus broke out among the party about to go shopping. There on the handle of the car was a giant dragonfly in repose, motionless, wrapped in a brief bit of morning sunlight.

Its wings were spread-out sheets of gossamer so thin the shining door handle shown through as if the wings were made of the clearest piece of thin glass. The wings like all wings, man-made or otherwise, had veins running through them in an organized fashion obviously put there for strength by the head engineer.

The thorax was a color of green so profound that Prada, my clothes maker, would have died to put that into a Paris garment fit only for the beautiful people, the ones so hung on self-aggrandizement that they almost fall over themselves. We had that color, right here latched firmly to our door handle. The shopping adventure had to wait as all individuals who could be summoned, gathered around and marveled at the insect so intricate, so delicate that there seemed no reason for the accumulation of such beauty.

For a brief moment I worried, it had attached itself there and then exhausted, died for there was no visible motion. At the same time, the insect was completely void of any signs of wear. It was pristine.

Having been a beekeeper it didn’t take long to learn back then, insects are no different than we humans, and worker bees wear out. I remember seeing  bees In their age, struggle back to the hive for that one last flight and then die on the entrance. Some worker bees could be found in the field, clinging to the flowers, motionless and dead, worn out from a life of toil. Had this beauty done the same after weeks of eating mosquitos? Not likely as there was not a single indication of doing a day’s work. It was new to this world.

Inquisitively, I placed my figure in front of the dragonfly and it slowly but deliberately, walked on to my finger to take a new position, still almost motionless and not seeming intent on flying away. It posed for the camera moving slightly from side to side much like the skinny Paris models but not arrogantly lifting its head in an ever-so-glamourous posture.

Then in a moment as we all pushed forward for a closer examination, the bedazzled bug took wing as if a jump jet and flew to a distant bush. Everyone looked at each other as if to say, “What was that? “

With little research, our visitor proved to be a Common Green Darner and was a juvenile,  meaning it was fresh out the pupal stage and probably just hanging out waiting to be an adult thereby avoiding all that immaturity and hormonal changes that go along with our species. The plan of attaching to an automobile door latch as a way of going through its entire juvenile period seems pure genius from my point of view—- and probably some educators in the junior-high system. Even when slightly prodded, the dragonfly was cool, calm and collected. A little reading also made mention of the fact this dragonfly will now change colors much like a modern day youth going from a tightly cut hair style to a purple Mohawk.

In my perusal, it turned out there is also a Dragon Fly Society, meaning there are organizations that do little other than exploring the beauty, behavior and life of Damselflies and Dragonflies. This species has a wondrous variety and diversity. It seems, each one of these jewels has its own glory and a long history of eating other insects—and yes, many of the prey have the ability to drain my blood.

So, while we cheered the grace and beauty of the Darner, and were even willing to compare it to any of the posing models in Vanity Fair, none of the human “beauties” consumed mosquitoes like the delicate, gorgeous but very predatory Dragonfly. Such a service they provide.

Ghost Pipe – An Extraordinary Botanical Curiosity

By Eleonore Hebal

“All good things are wild and free.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Early this morning, as the first bird songs warbled through August’s lush canopies, I stumbled across the most curious and ethereal of creatures peeking up from beneath the towering firs on the southern edge of my property – Ghost Pipe! To my amazement, dozens of thriving colonies were slowly emerging from the dark, rich earth, tangled between layers of decaying leaves, fermenting mulberries, and crimson capped toadstools. Three tiny bees were pollinating each of the fragile, down-turned bell flowers, carefully entering upside down. Spellbound, I silently observed the surreal scene for at least five minutes before continuing on with my hike. Before long I spotted more ghostly colonies arising in rings around my favorite oak tree, coiling underneath a large patch of poison ivy, and surfacing between the dead wood and viridescent moss along the path. An eerie, otherworldly light seemed to pulse through the stunning, bright white florets that gracefully bowed down to the decay of the fertile forest floor, instead of the mighty sun above. A wide smile spread across my face, what a delightful little ally to have around, an unexpected gift of the wet summer.

The unusual life cycle and strange beauty of Ghost Pipe has intrigued me for years. This delicate and mysterious plant, also known as Monotropa Uniflora, Corpse Plant, Ghost Flower, and Indian Pipe, is a translucent non-photosynthetic flowering epiparasite. They do not require chlorophyll. Instead, they parasitize mushrooms, commonly forming relationships with at least a dozen different tree fungi, many of which are edible. Upon researching the plant a bit more today, I learned that Ghost Pipe is completely dependent on its hosts for nutrients, requiring no sunlight. Renowned botanist Ryan Drum noted, after much observation, that nothing seems to eat this plant and after consuming more than an ounce himself, he felt nauseous and very weird.

Resembling a spine and a brain-stem, Ghost Pipe is a powerful nervine, used by traditional herbalists for hundreds of years to stop seizures, convulsions, insomnia, migraines, mental disorders, and chronic muscle spasms. In 1898, Harvey Wickes Felter and John Uri Lloyd wrote in King’s American Dispensatory that the powdered root can be used “as a substitute for opium, without any deleterious influences.” Many herbalists have observed that Ghost Pipe often makes people feel more grounded and present in the moment when overwhelming pain has been dominating their physical and social experiences. It appears to heighten one’s pain threshold. Several of my friends have successfully eased chronic physical pain and anxiety with small doses of its deep purple tincture. Ryan Drum does give caution that the consumption of 15 ml or more of Monotropa tincture “can bring deep sleep and ultra vivid dreams, often bizarre, frequently erotic.” The hazards and/or benefits of long-term regular usage of its tincture are still undocumented.

As twilight approached, I decided to visit the magical little ghosts again. A soft, shimmering light enveloped the entire Tomorrow River Valley, as the heavy summer sun sank below the horizon. As soon as I entered the forest, a serene feeling washed over me. I began to notice many new, or at least previously unnoticed, fungi. On my way to the fir grove I spotted at least a dozen more pipes and large colonies of turkey tail and coral mushrooms. As I came upon the ethereal little creatures that had enchanted my mind all day, I realized they looked more alive than ever in this in-between hour. Eerily quivering in the twilight breeze, they invited me to learn their secrets. Smiling, I accepted the generous invitation, mesmerized by their ghostly petals. As an herbalist, I like to believe that the plants choose you sometimes, especially when they emerge on the outskirts of your home. Perhaps these beautifully weird little parasites have something important to teach me. I will be a patient student and sit with them this year, always holding in mind my favorites quote by Thoreau, “All good things are wild and free.”

Ode to Joy

Ode to Joy                                                                By David Wright     Aug. Community Spirit

After a couple days of cross-country travel, we arrived at our grandson’s family home. To our amazement what do we hear filtering through the air, but the opening passage of Beethoven’s, “Ode to Joy”. First, it was just a prevalent hum, but within minutes, out comes the recorder, the green one he uses at music class. He rips through the “Ode” to let us know he had it down. Then, in the next pass, the melodic tune is more emotional. Moved, Grandma excitedly grabbed her flute case and out came the penny whistle. We now had The Ode in harmony and they were both wide-eyed full of themselves.  The kid had taken to classical music.

The repetitious recital lasted about an hour and we remained impressed but, in time, it seemed appropriate to move on. Yes, the kid did know Amazing Grace and Part of Beethoven’s Fur Elise. Fortunately, unlike my own father, when he hums  any musical ditty, everything is in pitch.

Ultimately, as the arrival din settled, the grandkid headed outside, to peruse his garden,   start fires, and climb trees—maybe to relive his ancestor’s Neanderthal past. Anyway, he was outside and away from the disheveled clutter of our arrival at their Colorado home.

As I later wandered outside to learn what the kid had going, it was impossible not to notice his still incessant humming of that same tune as if he were the composer himself trying to bring together the entire piece. Was it possible grandma’s harmony had fertilized this young mind? Going about his day, this tune reverberated quietly throughout the yard.

For the first three days in the house, and even at the local fishing hole, there was this wafting of the German composer’s tune, mostly the “Ode” but sometimes the “Fur Elise.” At times, Grandma was capable of enticing him off to “Amazing Grace” by playing the tune on the flute. In a diversionary tactic, she tried a few Irish laments, but while he had interest, the “Ode to Joy” was ever-present.

We did notice that the tune was mostly hummed while he was in a state of contentment, or at least not at a time when he was frazzled. In a patient way, his parents occasionally reminded him the humming was repetitious and for a few minutes, maybe he could tone it down.  It appeared possible the only thing that would silence the orchestration was his

desire to jabber incessantly on every topic of interest, which mostly included nesting hornets and exploring wasps. Given an idle moment, or the brief tract of silence, he would drift into the incantation.

A few days later, we headed for the mountains where we planned a number of days hiking and fishing—not necessarily in that order. One of the other loves of Jake’s life is fishing and once near the vicinity of some miserable mud hole or great clear lakes, he was rod-in-hand hell bent pursuing the silver darlings. On this day with blonde hair flowing and ratty pole firmly gripped, he was off to water’s edge to rip some fish lips.

On the first lakeside day and after a few minutes of Glen’s instructions, he was on to a leaping trout. In Jake’s chattering fashion, he a

nnounced the action much like a radio announcer so every human and the one moose we saw, could hear the diatribe on how he caught and released the fourteen-inch fish. In time the moment of fishing joy settled and there in the background was the “Ode to Joy” coming through the heavens in his eleven-year-old soprano voice. It was then I realized that maybe Beethoven had hit REAL joy in those music.

I drifted off around the glassy pond seeking my own joy, maybe even singing the “Ode” myself, when I swore I could still hear him humming away across the pond. What an imprint. His mother had told me that during his entire stay in Paris, a few weeks past, he hummed that tune as if Ludwig had channeled him.

The next day was the test in many ways as we headed out to fish the North Platte River close to the Wyoming border. The word was out that there was a mosquito issue on the local rivers. Still, Jake lusted to fish, particularly, he noted, in streams. But, was he going to be able to deal with the difficulty of the river, catch fish, tolerate the ferocious attack bugs and still have joy in his heart enough to hum the “Ode”?

The stream was glorious, kissed by clear water over gravel, the smell of sage whispering through the few cottonwoods and a population of mosquitos never seen in the Amazon, or Alaska combined. Only a population of Blow Flies and Guinea worms could have been worse. We slapped on some repellent and headed out into the water. In the first ten minutes, he never seemed to swat a single bug but fished with intent. To the best of my knowledge, he never had a single strike (he said he did but suspicion was out there). We fished for an intense hour. At one juncture, Glen pointed out that visibly on my back there were over 100 mosquitoes. Jake rambled about, threw his flies, marveled at the presence of hornets and water bugs, quicksand, and the fact there were no fish bitting.

As we stood above the river facing the Never-Summer Range, and surrounded by swarms of blood lusting bugs, I heard it, “The Ode to Joy”.