Dragonflies playing dead and other baseline studies for our trip to Mars

I love the moist and humid 

of marshland,

watching

tall grasses break

the surface of water,

simply wondering

what fish must silver

the shallows

or what reptile

slither a shiver

down the spine ..

I took these photos while we walked the trail at Lobster Cove meadow and Appalachee preserves in Boothbay Harbor. They look like a poem. At 46.8-acres,  this preserve boasts of a freshwater wetland, large field and a quite densely forested upland [1] I loved every part of it and given half a chance, I would have perhaps spent my morning sitting by that soupy ferment of grass and sodden earth, creating botanical drawings or writing floral poetry ..

.. but this prose poem is really about dragonflies and a lyrical questioning of the viability of some species of the order Odonata, on planets that humankind propose to relocate to. Of what use then, is a dragonfly?

I'm hypnotized by the dragonfly's

agile life path 

or is it - a flight path? 


On taxonomy ~


Marsh trails at Lobster Cove,

court me in grass -

resigned they are,

to the trample of feet, 

or fate, in Maine,

land richly resplendent 

in the iridescence 

of one hundred and fifty five

species ---

emeralds, jewel wings, reds,

golds, pond damsels, 

darners, skimmers, hawkers,

predators, 

dragons that fly, 

and this isn't metaphor..



I flee to be happily feral 

in these teeming marshes,

soliloquising to this multitude.

This thick slice of populace,

if you police the species,

spawn irreverent ideas

of vagrants or migrants 

or residents. Of these

I ladle millions with simply 

the scoop of my hand, 

from a steamy soupy puddle.. 

Hundreds of dragonflies 

and damselflies,

are squadrons in the sky,

a flight arena weakening air.

They meld in a singular 

poetic brush stroke 

of airy romance

even as my botanical eye 

purloins them from a vast kingdom

to stricture within an Order, 

of specialised missions,

their godly wings for escort, 

or those that pivot 

to a singular pursuit

of combative intent 

and thus, genus is recruited 

to sub orders and 

other such self effacement

There are 155 species of Odonata in Maine which include the 112 of  Anisoptera,  which is comprised only of dragonflies. These hold their wings horizontal to the surface they alight upon, while damselflies (Zygoptera), hold them vertical, this being an important criterion besides the eyes, for easy differentiation between both, although they look quite similar.  Beyond that, you could mull over the variation of  corrugation patterns, the curvature of the various ridges and deep valleys on the plane of the wing membrane, or wing span and attached musculature while considering that individuals within the same species vary considerably as also, between the species. Yet, it was of great interest to me, that measurements based on the wing profiles from a single wing of very few dried specimens spearheaded whole studies and scientific hypotheses on the effect of these morphological characteristics on aerodynamics of the dragonfly. 

It’s a dragonfly, I want to know why it flies .. so ..

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Now imagine this complex wing architecture, the attached musculature that enables the independent movement of each of the four wings and the aerodynamic magic that propels the dragonfly through three dimensional trajectories, through space. The ability to manoeuvre in a way that they can fly backwards without any added expense of energy, their speed, agility and their capacity to hover, aids them in their remarkable predatory routines. It makes my heart skip a bit when I understand they exclusively intercept other flying insects while in flight, perhaps like humans attempt to do in aerial combat. These remarkable creatures can cruise, pursue, intercept while on their territorial flights, in chasing others like them or in stalking prey and some can even fly in formation.

Flying is arduous and requires efficient management of energy. In extensive studies of the relationship between the wing planform of Odonata and aerodynamic efficiency during flapping flight, it was found that dragonflies must generate 221% of the power that would be necessary to produce the same lift with perfect aerodynamic efficiency (i.e. from an ideal ‘actuator disc’ or ‘lifting line’ in laboratory conditions). Damselflies, operate with a less efficient wing shape in comparison and have to generate 275% of the power that would be required under ideal conditions, simply to fly [6] The overarching question in these studies of wingspan efficiency is, why are insect wing shapes so variable. No one has yet discovered an optimal solution from the standpoint of aerodynamics as insects have several adaptive and non-adaptive factors that contribute to wing shape, and only some of these adaptations will have any aerodynamic or mechanical relevance.

Currently, no suitable wing model exists, to replicate what is experienced by the mechanosensors present on the wings of these living creatures, that are responsible for relaying sensory signals required to power a flight. Eliciting predictable and repeatable flight responses in laboratory conditions has been tricky as well, but most importantly, inorder to generalize and validate flight strategies in the real world, field recordings are essential, but we find that a reliable field data logger for Odonata is yet to be developed.

Thus it stands, we do not understand many things about dragonflies and there are several reasons to continue to study them, least of all that such research will advance humankind’s understanding of unsteady aerodynamics, flight control, sensory integration and the evolution of flight [6] but each dragonfly has its own unique functional design and form, therefore, the task of learning about the metabolic cost of flying to each organism and drawing conclusions thus about flight strategies, is much more complicated than it appears. Until now, no human to the best of my knowledge, has produced a successful dragonfly except for another dragonfly.

My need to know and understand arises as a matter of habit, marking with gravitas this breezy situation which sometimes, a marsh walk can be. When I excitedly tell my husband about surprising facts I come across , I mean, who can not notice the science of it on a leisurely walk .. he wonders the same as I, why one’s mind cannot quite exult and float, elated on fresh air and sunshine alone 😄 Well, I try …

.. not to think of some innovative blueprint for a new drone, designed perhaps like a dragonfly or a damselfly, or scientific research pondering the inefficiency of those horizontally or vertically held wings, that somehow refuse to be consistent in their shape and size [5] There I am, in a marsh, dragonflies in a flight arena of sky, exhibiting the same tendencies as the rest of the sentient species and I realise, there isn’t enough grass nor sky for everyone. There are entire societies at play here not to feel crowded out, and I, a bystander, looking from the outside at their arduous frolicking and wondering of the aggressive sexual behaviour of dragonflies that suddenly taints every romantic vision of earth and sky that I would like to weave into my marshy poetry. Somehow, writing lyrically of how happy I am to see dragonflies engaged in territorial displays over grass, is akin to admitting I enjoy bullfights or so I think and I laugh, for I do or maybe I don’t. In all seriousness though, it prods me to think of the limits of acceptance, a virtue we are smug to extol, or of the questions we are reluctant to frame …

Do you know how we map 

the flight of consciousness ?

I think that is what it is ..

the question I mean.


I wish I could veil my glance

in poetry, blissful membranous

euphemism, like lined coffins

for the dead but I would be

unfeeling not to notice

the corrugations in

those angelic wings.


Is everywhere the place

where the glade is pleasant,

the woods cheerful,

the waters run deep ?


Sometimes, all those things, yes 

and the female of the species

dropped dead. It startled me

from my airbrushed soliloquy, 

for blade strokes -

aerodynamic, iridescent

in a viridescent marsh,

had squelched irony

from the maw of design.


Nymphs in the shallows,

are a Neverland

of eternal childhood.

In the wake

of an artful airlift

for angelic pursuit,

are embattled skies

of conflictual ardour,

and comically painful

those cerci on neck ..


The kama sutra of aerodynamic love

yields outlines of hearts,

lyrical hymns to creatures

great, cherubic, winged,

but the females fake death

to squadrons of a militant

genetic drive.



Will we need dragonflies on Mars

with no oxygen nor water to monitor?

And what use a desultory

Martian anthropomorphisation

as it bites the barren of dust?


Each wingspan a solitary delight,

those 180 degree flips

three dimensional trajectories

of love, for survival of the species

through nicks and bruises ..

Mating in dragonflies is a unique affair in that it involves serious terms like tandem linkage and wheel formation and a great deal of aggression [7] It is highly acrobatic sport and eventually a mating pair forms this heart shape as in the picture above. The male first grabs a female by the back of her neck with claspers at the end of his abdomen that are called cerci which are structural appendages that actually fit into species-specific grooves in the female. Once this tandem linkage is established, the actual consummation takes place which is quite interesting but involves sexual gymnastics involving abdominal segments and appendages for scooping out of rival sperm, some vicious territoriality, pursuit of multiple suitors and a very tired female at the end [8] The high male-biased ratio in adult dragonflies at breeding habitats, has in part, contributed to females using different habitats to avoid male harassment.

Females of some species of dragonflies (Female moorland hawkers or Aeshna juncea for example) are vulnerable to being harassed when laying eggs since they aren’t protected by their male mates. This isn’t the case with all dragonflies but many of the species exhibit sexual conflict. In Moorland hawkers for instance, eggs are usually fertilised in a single sexual encounter with a male, and copulating again could damage their reproductive tract so after the act, females crash dive to the ground at very high speeds and fake death [9]

As I marvel at the dragonfly, I appreciate what humans can learn and possibly unlearn from our compatriots on this sometimes green and golden earth, while I question if there is more to the poetry of the species than simply one upmanship, mean spiritedness, lusty escapades, romantic illusions and other attributes of our inherent genetic propensity, that mainly drive every conflict, every conquest, every war and all tribalism.

How much of dragonfly do we wish to be, plainly rhetorical musing …

There were mushrooms too ..
I thought this looked like living sculpture ..

References:

[1]~https://www.mainetrailfinder.com/trails/trail/lobster-cove-meadow-and-appalachee-preserves

[2]~https://maineanencyclopedia.com/dragonflies/

[3](Gives a list of species found in Maine and their distribution) ~https://www.jstor.org/stable/3858343

[4]~https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/geb.12758

[5]~https://www.google.com/amp/s/phys.org/news/2014-11-secret-dragonflies-flight.amp

[6]~https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2015.0389

[7]~https://www.thoughtco.com/how-dragonflies-mate-1968255

[8]~https://www.livescience.com/43206-animal-sex-dragonflies.html

[9]~https://www.newscientist.com/article/2129185-female-dragonflies-fake-sudden-death-to-avoid-male-advances/

Pink ballerina

This poem is for my beloved niece, the only person I can think of, who gardens in a tutu. I adore the way she has begun to thread together complex sentences, now that she is three.

Pink ballerina

I found some impressive Macramé creations (photos further down) at a store and thought to inveigle this art into the poem somehow. It adds to my terminology of thread crafts that I have tried to use in my poetry. It must be a highly meditative effort for those that knot yarn or twine into an elaborate aesthetic.

Enjoy the poem and thank you for reading.

Earth sought succour in root and in the arrival of a pink ballerina / a shortcrust* of yearning crumbled in mud, awaiting that sandy renunciation / to be scooped and patted like loam clay into a concrete planter / This little girl is awash in the business of making mud pies or earth flan / and are they not nursery rhymes she gurgles at the English weather / darkened, of thunderous portent, yet its stiff upper lip quivering in a slow rumble// 

She loops time into a Larks head for Macramé / and in the tapestry of minutes spent sifting sand, moulding clay / they work their way into square knots and clove hitches, those ringing voices of rain clouds that traipsed within hearing / while she was alone at play, when dipping a promise of pink roses into the soil, trying to pot seasons into place//

She is transfixed by the tones of these Aeolian charms / frightfully delighted that they resonate in a symphonic choral with her /singing of mirthful gnomes, of winged fairies, scurrying field mice, musical robins, thieving magpies, startled bolts of lightening / and perhaps of love being the sameness of loam found in every forest throbbing with root reaching root//

Yet the burgeoning crescendo lacks timbre of the flowers that have not yet bloomed on the sameness of leaf / that are a blur of mystery plants awash in green / There, in this leafy overwhelm, she bellows a tantrum across the Atlantic that I can hear / for she is a fledgling gardener and what use is taxonomy in mud play//

She gurgles rhymes to placate the thunder / to outshine the sun / and finds the lexicon is of limited skein, a finitude of hues in the spectrum / even as the legionnaires of weather rush to patent the syllables of love's petrichor, consonants of battling clouds, vowels of weeping skies / selfsame synonyms ricocheting in unison//

She is unafraid to rhyme in synchrony for the notes disperse in a swollen rain cloud showering poems / In this garden, she can be the sweetest thing for she invents love, as she pirouettes around rose bushes, clematis and tulips / with a soil scoop in one hand, a wand in the other, to ensure it is indeed magic she does//

Process and form:

I worked from a photo that’s been edited to a painted style, so this should count as a narrative and Ekphrastic exercise perhaps.

Macramé knots mentioned in the poem [1]:

In Macramé, a lark’s head knot is used to attach a cord or thread to something .

A square knot is one of the most widely used Macramé knots and it can be created as left facing or right facing. Square knots need to have at least 4 cords (2 working cords and 2 filler cords) but can have more.

A Clove Hitch, also called a Double Half Hitch, creates lines in a Macramé projects. They can be worked horizontally, diagonally, and on occasion, vertically.

Reference:

[1]How to Macramé: 7 Basic Knots to Master~https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/basic-macrame-knots-4176636


*I am compelled to add this shortcrust pastry recipe inspired by David Lebovitz. He has happy anecdotes to share of baking in France and his recipes are simply elegant

For the tart dough 
6 tablespoons (3 ounces, 85g) unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
1/4 cup (50g) sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 cup (140g) flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Make the tart dough by mixing the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on low-to-medium speed, until combined, about 1 minute. (But do not whip.) Add the egg yolk and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Mix in the flour and salt on low speed, until the dough comes together. If necessary, add a sprinkle of water if the dough feels too dry. Don't overmix it. (I often stop the mixer before the dough is done and mix it by hand, to avoid overmixing.)

French Apple Tart (Tarte normande)~https://www.davidlebovitz.com/aux-pommes-french-apple-tart-tarte-normande/

In defiance of a maxim ~ One man’s food is another man’s food

I was at a loss for words today, ( Have I exhausted them already ?) and couldn’t quite come up with a poem so I went through my picture gallery to create something like a prose poem for the South Indian thali that we enjoyed at brunch a couple of weeks ago. (This afternoon though, was spent at an Italian Easter brunch where the server addressed me as ”Signora” and that made me giggle. I mean, how sweet and quaint !) Happy Easter too !

The South Indian restaurant from weeks ago had displayed this wonderful floral Rangoli ; pretty in a brass bowl
A South Indian Thali, there’s an art to preparing and eating this platter of vegetarian food

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You know the old adage … one man’s food is another man’s … but this plate comes full circle like time in a lazy Susan that you may turn anticlockwise or minutes ahead as you take in grains of soft cooked rice or wheat rolled into round moons, in turn with a lentil broth, drumsticks chopped to sound a liquid , fragrant in leaves of curry. Yes, there’s a tree with those exact leaves in leaflets and it grows in my mother’s garden. The gravy runs thick in coconut that was high up a tree some time ago, now milled on a grindstone of effort. Some of the offerings are meant to lull the palate, others to provoke excitement, like a fanciful life, pickled in lime and raging in the spices of Kerala. I think it is a Raga they play in notes of cumin, coriander, mustard, fenugreek and fennel, seeded in the double reed of a Nathaswaram, the sound bouncing around painting a canvas in taste. The senses are a kaleidoscope of colour, then some sour curds to settle your stomach, like a blanket for the gut lest it mutiny. There is no conflict in bitter, astringent, pungent, salty, there’s no umami but hey, it’s not Japan. Then finally the sweet seduction of a milk pudding, like life.

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Definitions: ( All sourced online from Wikipedia and they pretty much sum up what the terms mean)

Nathaswaram, is a double reed wind instrument from South India . It is used as a traditional classical instrument in Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala. This instrument is “among the world’s loudest non-brass acoustic instruments”. It is a wind instrument partially similar to the North Indian shehnai but much longer, with a hardwood body and a large flaring bell made of wood or metal.

A raga or raag is a melodic framework for improvisation akin to a melodic mode in Indian classical music.The rāga is a unique and central feature of the classical Indian music tradition, and as a result has no direct translation to concepts in classical European music. Each rāga is an array of melodic structures with musical motifs, considered in the Indian tradition to have the ability to “colour the mind” and affect the emotions of the audience.

[[ I like the the song Mamavatu by Susheela Raman. This Carnatic composition is of Mysore Vasudevachar, known in the original as Mamavatu Sri Saraswati which is set in Raga Hindolam to pay homage to Goddess Saraswati. It’s an initiation into the more traditional Carnatic music. I listen to a lot of Raga purely for the sound. I do not understand the language nor lyrics of the same unless it is in Hindustani classical from the North ]]

The curry tree (Murraya koenigii) is a tropical to sub-tropical tree in the family Rutaceae (the rue family, which includes rue, citrus, and satinwood), and is native to Asia. The plant is also sometimes called sweet neem, though M. koenigii is in a different family to neem, Azadirachta indica, which is in the related family Meliaceae.

Thali (meaning “plate”) or Bhojanam (meaning “full meals) is a round platter used to serve food in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Thali is also used to refer to an Indian-style meal made up of a selection of various dishes which are served on a platter.

Rangoli is an art form originating in the Indian subcontinent, in which patterns are created on the floor or a tabletop using materials such as powdered lime stone, dry rice flour, coloured sand, quartz powder, flower petals, and coloured rocks.