The Common Blue Damselfly5 minute read

Common Blue Damselfly

A common blue damselfly stars in this piece of my nature writing, which is based on a wander from Wythburn to Harrop Tarn, close to Thirlmere in the Lake District.

The Common Blue Damselfly

Today the fells exude a ghostly feel as one great big mass of mist after the next moves in on them and swallows their uppermost parts.

The seemingly slow-motion movement of clouds across these earthen bulks is nothing short of mesmeric, their weightless forms interminably morphing, ceaselessly shape-shifting as they waft at the mercy of atmospheric currents.

The sheer massiveness of a mountain is visible one minute then hidden the next—a great and beautiful illustration of the incomprehensible grandness of nature.

I walk around the southern end of Thirlmere in a valley whose air is drenched with drizzle. Upon noticing my presence, a grey heron lifts off from a field that homes no less than a hundred Herdwicks—recently sheared ewes and their black lambs whose baas echo far down the dale. If the bird had stayed put, I would not have spotted it stood behind a snarl of rushes.

I soon arrive at the start of a footpath that takes me further and further from the valley floor. The low-lying vegetation glistens with countless clinging droplets of intercepted rain. Grasses, ferns and fancy foxgloves, the majority of the latter now hanging on only to their most apical petals, are all brilliantly spangled with the glassy beads.

As I pass the occasional patch of bog, the crimson-coloured trichomes of carnivorous sundews catch my eye, the striking little plants crowded around slimy pools and seepages patiently waiting for their next insect snack.

Higher up the fell-side, a craggy outcrop makes a firm foundation for a rowan tree aka mountain ash. This mountain goat of the plant kingdom sticks out at an unlikely angle from the rock that encases its roots. It is but mid-July, yet the berries that decorate the crown are already red and ripe.

I continue through a hole in a dry-stone wall where, suddenly, I find myself stood at a viewpoint commanding an impressive prospect of a tarn, Harrop Tarn. The small body of water is situated in the open at the centre of a shallow depression, a shallow depression fringed with conifers and walled in on its western side by the central fells of the Lake District.

I potter down toward the mountain pool, the sporadic glimpse of a small mammal shooting into its burrow or the opportunity to pluck a wild raspberry inducing an unplanned pause here and there. Soon enough, however, I reach the floor of the upland hollow, passing through its tree-inhabited edge to be greeted by an expanse of waterlogged grassland studded endlessly with the strong, vibrant yellows and ambers of bog asphodel. The flowers are small, star-shaped, and crammed around the head of a spike six inches or so in height.

Lightly mingled amongst the asphodel are orchids of the common-spotted variety, each lending a splash of pink to the wonderful palette that surrounds me.

From my current position, Harrop Tarn appears to be nothing more than a sliver of silver, but as I follow a stream that disgorges its waters into the silvery slice, it quickly claims a growing proportion of my visual field until, at last, I am able to see it for what it really is. It is an oh-so picturesque pond, its liquid clear and its perimeter romantically lined with floating mats of amalgamated lily pads.

The airspace above is a feeding ground for half a dozen house martins who sweep, swallow-like, swiftly back and forth.

Without warning, a hole opens up in the heavens allowing the sun to pour its light and warmth onto the land below, heating the shallow fell-side hollow to a temperature fit for a king.

A common blue damselfly then arrives on the scene, no doubt to re-energise under the sun’s sumptuous rays. His elongated, club-shaped body boasts a compelling colour, blue like a summery sky.

The damselfly’s aerodynamics come across as somewhat erratic. The creature repeatedly and very rapidly rises and falls as if being tugged on by an invisible string.

Moments later, the little blue being alights on a stalk, his posture like a lever sticking out from a pipe.

Ever so slowly, I creep forwards towards the blueness, my actions lacking any sense of suddenness, my every motion free of abruptness. My patience is rewarded, for very soon we are eyeball to eyeball, a distance from which I am able to scrutinize the fine details of the damselfly’s form.

I can discern the individual segments of his long, narrow abdomen where pitch-black markings accompany the blue; the same is true for the thorax, too.

Positioned alongside the abdomen, very much like a sheath, are the long, slender, transparent wings, each patterned by a convoluted network of jet black veins which divide the flight instruments up into jigsaw-puzzle pieces of assorted shapes and sizes.

I can even make out a layer of dainty, white hairs, each strand standing erect atop the head and thorax.

Perhaps most marvellous, however, are the eyes—each one a lapis lazuli sphere, Liliputian in size despite taking up a colossal portion of the head.

All of a sudden, the hole up above shrinks out of existence and with it the glorious sunshine. I look up, then I look back down, and the damselfly is gone.

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