Speaking of Dragonflies

Dragonfly by Janine Bertolo, mineral watercolour on synthetic paper

My dragonfly painting

In my experience, dragonflies have never posed a physical threat. I teased David once that he must have some Disney princess in him when a persistent dragonfly kept landing on his face and t-shirt while we walked in the woods one day.

They seemed to be a random but consistent theme for gifts for me and by me, dragonfly images in jewelry, pottery, a favourite tea mug.

When we joked that the new town we were moving to reminded us of Stars Hollow, the fictional setting for the Gilmore Girls TV series, we named our house the Dragonfly. And when my mom passed away, my brother and sister in law gifted me with a metal dragonfly sculpture for the garden in lieu of flowers.

Their prehistoric beauty weaves a magical thread through my life.

They are truly amazing creatures. Here are seven fascinating things you might not already know about dragonflies.

I hear my father’s voice most every time I see a dragonfly in nature. “They’ll sew your lips shut,” he’d say, and we saw them a lot. Someone had passed this piece of false folklore on to him when he was a young child. Well into his 60’s as we walked together, it had obviously left an impression, one that he handed down to me.

Years ago, walking in the woods along the north shore of Lake Superior with my nephew who was about 4 or 5 at the time, I remember the heat of summer rising up from the forest floor, the sun filtering through the trees, the song of cicadas heralding the approach of summer’s end, and dragonflies thick in the air. Their darting and hovering, the iridescence of their bodies and wings had always fascinated me.

“They’ll sew your lips shut Nonno says.” I suppose I made to pass on the story another generation. The nephew stopped in his tracks; I had to double back a bit when I realized this. His sunny expression had darkened as he quite firmly requested that I please not say that again, especially while walking this path.

Only then did it occur to me that the thought of an insect sewing one’s lips shut might be disturbing to a child. It had never bothered me, I supposed because I was most of the time a fairly serious child with two feet planted firmly in the ground, pretty sure this could not occur in real life.

On other topics I was more gullible. There was, for example, the few days I crawled out of bed on my hands first because I’d believed an aunt who’d told me that your feet would stick to the floor the next morning if you swallowed your gum. Kids choose which stories to trust; it’s random.

My nephew wanted neither my dad nor I to speak of dragonflies sewing your lips shut ever again. I wonder if he’d ever been as solid in this request of my dad as he had of me. I never told my dad that story; I wish I had. And I wish I had asked him how he’d felt as a child when whoever it was told him the dragonfly lie.

Because obviously the words had left an impression.

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