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One of the greatest joys of being out in nature is that you never quite know what will happen next. We live organised lives and we have become used to being in control, making things turn out the way we would like and rarely getting any surprises – a shame, really, as I rather like surprises.
It is all too easy to imagine that we really are a lot smarter than we deserve but, if you head into nature frequently, you soon see the egotistical foolhardiness of all this.
We are not in control to any great degree and we certainly aren’t quite as “evolved” or as important as we may imagine. In my travels on foot about the Cape Peninsula I have come to appreciate that we are a good deal more dependent upon nature than it is on us.
And there are wonders out there, better than any fairy tale. There are damsels and dragons, eternal struggles and miniature wars going on. There are winged predators, brightly cloaked with gleaming metallic armour and capable of prodigious feats of strength and ingenuity, magic tricks of metamorphosis and stunning aerial mastery.
Take, for instance, a little drama I watched unfold on a streamside rock a short while ago. I was on a lovely riverside trail, the sun was shining brightly and there was but a slight breeze – a glorious summer’s day. Out over the water tiny mayflies were dancing in ritual courtship, bright motes in the sunlight, bobbing and weaving in search of a mate. Occasionally a brightly coloured dragonfly, the entomological equivalent of an attack helicopter, would swoop into view and grab a hapless mayfly.
Then I noticed a dragonfly nymph that had only just crawled out of the water in preparation for hatching out into an adult. Dragonflies are of the order of damselflies, “odonata”, and spend most their lives as subaquatic insects, crawling about the bottom of streams and lakes hunting for food for a year or two before miraculously transforming into the gorgeously metallic adults with which we are all familiar.
The nymph was some 3-4cm long and, having managed as a water breathing predator for some long while, it now climbed out and started breathing air. That is quite some trick to start with, but the miracle had only just begun. The nymphal exoskeleton then split along the top of the thorax and the adult began to emerge. It is a little like you crawling out of a tightly fitting sleeping bag and becoming a whole new you, with the ability to fly thrown in for good measure.
Shucking itself free, the first thing the dragonfly now did was to turn into the wind, one imagines to avoid being blown over once it started to inflate its wings.
Now how on earth does a bug that has known nothing of the world outside of the streambed understand enough to pull off this little trick? How on earth does it know what wind is, or even what wings are for?
Over the course of the next 10 to 15 minutes the newly emerged dragonfly proceeded to grow larger and larger, pumping up its body and lengthening it as, at the same time, its wings unfolded and expanded. By the end it was quite obvious that you would never fit the adult teneril (the term for a newly hatched dragonfly) back into the case from which it had just emerged.
Eventually, it took off on its maiden flight. It really was an awesome spectacle to watch, unmatched by anything that mankind can come up with. Sure the wheel, the microchip, the internal combustion engine, the suspension bridge or even space flight are all pretty impressive, but to my mind they don’t hold a candle to the miracles occurring every day around us.
So as a new year’s resolution I would urge you to make a special effort this year to get out into the wondrous natural world that thankfully surrounds us in this province. Take a little time to revel in the glory of it all. We are surrounded by miracles if we take the time and trouble to look for them – miracles happening in your garden and on the mountains, in the streams and ditches, along the trails and pathways outside your door.
Open your door and your mind and go and visit your planet. - Sunday Argus