More than meets the eye

You may recall that a recent post had me waxing poetic about the sparkly dragonflies I chased all around the Ventura settling ponds a couple weeks ago. Smitten I was, indeed, but, as in all fanciful love stories where I’ve been a player, the harsh reality of life suddenly sets in and teaches me a lesson. And being in love with nature is no exception. Where there is life – brilliant, gleaming, beautiful life – there is also death.

This morning, while walking the dogs, I noticed a large spider web with something rather sizable affixed to it. From a distance it looked like leaves, but a quick survey of the vegetation in the immediate vicinity told me nothing matched the colors on the object entangled within the web. My stomach churned as I moved closer, remembering accounts I’d read of the largest orb weavers taking hummingbirds as their captives. I’d even learned how to free a hummingbird and delicately remove web residue with tweezers, just in case.

Upon closer inspection, the silhouette was not wide enough to be that of a hummingbird. I started to breath a sigh of relief, but my exhale was cut short when the glittering wings of a dragonfly came into sharp view. I swallowed my breath and shuddered. The dragonfly was frozen in the web, in perfect form – as though he never saw it coming. Ironically, just as he once hunted his prey by surprise attack, he had been hunted in much the same way. But how? With nearly 360-degree vision, and incredible aerial maneuverability, it seemed implausible that this majestic creature could end up like this. And yet, here he was – on display like one of those performance artists frozen in Times Square – except in this case, his movement would cease forever. Or would it?

Suddenly, I saw the web shake to and fro and wondered if the dragonfly might be trying to vibrate himself free. But like one of those psychedelic paintings where a hidden image comes into focus after staring intently, the horror of the situation abruptly revealed itself. The dragonfly’s head, which I had mistaken as being much larger, was enveloped by an enormous orb weaver spider. My heart told me to look away, but my head wouldn’t let me. At first hesitant to document the carnage, I eventually moved in with my iPhone for a snapshot to satisfy my morbid curiosity. Though, I will admit, I was not lamenting being unequipped with a macro lens on this outing. I simply couldn’t have stomached seeing this dazzling creature consumed by the spider in excruciating detail.

And so I walked home, thinking how life had turned on a dime in just a couple weeks. Yet, as disturbing as my latest nature discovery was, there was also a certain completeness to it. The cycle of life and death had been thrust in my face once again, reminding me just how precious every day is. And reminiscing back to that sunny day when I chased a frolicking, shimmering dragonfly around the pond, I was absolutely convinced that dragonfly lived every beautiful day like it was his last.

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