The dance of the dragonfly and the pickerel

A chain pickerel, courtesy of Wikipedia

Ames Nowell Park, Abington, Massachusetts

I long hunted a spot to read and found it behind a bush where sat a splintered picnic table that was missing the part defined it as a table – its top. Its benches were still serviceable and supported my substantial 140 lb weight. Artifacts on the ground – an Atlas condom wrapper (its unfurled content laying in the water next to a rock so that it looked like the rock was sticking out its sickly pallid tongue), a Baja Blast Mountain Dew can, leg grabbing fishing line, and some brand of electronic cigarette – let me know that I was not the only other person to find this the perfect spot for whatever was in mind. My mind was on reading and quiet.

Repeatedly the water splashes on the edge of the lily pads. I assume the splash is from a pickerel – a small green torpedo that lurks under lily-pad leaves perpetually looking skyward for a snack. A fisherman who casts a floating lure near the edge of lily pads may be rewarded with the excitement of catching such a torpedo. With no pole, I fish with my eyes. A dragonfly lands on a small piece of floating plant. A second later the still water erupts. As the water stills the dragonfly is hovering; with his mouth empty, the pickerel likely returns to his hideout with a huff.

The dance of the dragonfly and the pickerel goes twice more. Does the dragonfly tease the pickerel? An aerial predator taunting the water-bound one, like an older brother who offers the ball to his little brother only to jerk it away as he reaches for it? I don’t think this is a sibling rivalry between an invertebrate and vertebrate because the dragonfly appears to be a female. Each time she lands she curls her tail into the water; the act of egg-laying. Dragonfly larvae are aquatic. She has picked this piece of plant as her nest – a nest that risks her life, but in her odonatal instinct of maternity she has decided that this nest is best for her young. Maybe she picked this spot precisely because the pickerel is there, knowing that any fish or insects that may want a snack of dragonfly eggs may first find themselves a snack. In this way the pickerel should thank the dragonfly for luring supper closer to his jaws. But the pickerel is short-sighted and only knows the hunger of now and not tomorrow.

A fisherman arrives. He is not a sit-and-wait predator like the pickerel. I tell him about the previous drama and he casts out his lure – an orange plastic abstraction of a frog. He drags it in front of the lily pads but the water doesn’t erupt. Maybe the muscles of the pickerel are taut, ready to strike and while it may flinch a millimeter when it sees the dancing orange legs of what looks like a frog the pickerel halts when it sees it is clearly not a frog. The pickerel possibly annoyed – and confused – by a frog that swims in front of him that then jumps out of the water when it’s near land only to return to the front of the pickerel less than a minute later. Maybe it’s more than one orange frog and there is now a freeway of headless, orange frogs with strangely dancing legs in front of his lily pad. The pickerel is likely annoyed to be focused on a dinner that’s not dinner instead of keeping watch for dinner that is dinner.

The fisherman yanks his line out of the water finally. The limp legs of the headless, orange frog dangle. “Ah, there’s nothing here,” he says.

Minutes later I hear a splash. I look up and see a dragonfly hovering above the ripples.

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