On my drive home today, a dragonfly struck the window of my Mini Cooper. Curiously, the impact did not kill the creature, though it certainly was stunned. Instead, its tail somehow became tucked beneath one of my wiper blades.

I was sad to see it happen, but I didn’t do anything about it. What could I do? It looked alive, but I couldn’t be sure. And what good would stopping the car do? I figured it would be dead by the time I got home.

It wasn’t.

As I unloaded the groceries, I noticed the dragonfly was very much alive. It was flailing to escape from the wiper’s grasp.

“Kris,” I called. “I need you to do something for me.”

“What is it?” she asked.

“There’s a dragonfly under the wipers. It’s still alive, and I can’t bear to look at it. Can you take care of it?”


I know this is a reversal from typical gender roles, but that’s how it is in our house. Kris deals with death and destruction all day long. I write about the psychology of money. I’m the sensitive one; Kris is matter of fact. Killing insects is her province (though I’m responsible for spiders.)

She carefully freed the dragonfly and held it in her hand. “One of its wings is broken,” she said.

“What should we do?” I asked. She gave me a look as if to say that I shouldn’t be such a baby.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “It’s just a dragonfly.” She hung it from a clerodendron blossom. I tried to ingore the thing as I went about my business, but I couldn’t. I found its plight heartbreaking. I stood by and watched it closely for several minutes.


The dragonfly was beautiful, a sort of crystal blue with deep liquid eyes and lace-like wings. It was conscious and active. It gesticulated with its forelegs, it rotated its head, it vibrated its wings.

Eventually, it made a futile attempt to fly, but merely swooped to the grass. The dragonfly could walk just fine, but could not take to the air.

A part of me knows that it’s ridiculous to be so concerned about an insect. Eventually, I had to leave. I don’t want to know how this creature’s story ends. Its destiny seems clear enough. It’s a shame that something so beautiful cannot live forever.

Postscript: Now I know how this dragonfly’s story ends. Simon finds it and eats it. Alas, poor dragonfly.

Opal Creek Hike 2009

Last weekend, I joined Andrew and Tim and Josh and Paul for our annual trek into the Opal Creek wilderness area, which is located between Stayton and Detroit. This is the first time I’ve been able to make the journey in several years. On my last trip, I made this photo, which was published in Audubon magazine:

Opal Creek Pool
Opal Creek swimming hole

As usual, we left early Friday afternoon. The five of us piled into two vehicles (including my Mini Cooper!) to make the two-hour drive. Here’s a map of our destination (I don’t know the source of this map or I’d provide credit — it’s not mine):

We parked at the locked gate located at the left edge of the map. The first part of our hike followed a pot-holed gravel road along the Little North Santiam River. A bridge over Gold Creek provided a scenic view, and was followed by a brief passage along a cliff-side that reminds me of something out of World of Warcraft.

After 2.2 miles, we turned south to catch the trail along the creek. (On our outward hike, we took the north route along the gravel road through Jawbone Flats.)

Hiking Along Opal Creek
Andrew, Tim, and Josh hiking along the creek

We hiked east 1.4 miles to Opal Pool, then another 0.6 miles to the washed-out bridge. Only the bridge isn’t completely washed out. It’s a log that has fallen across the river, and which had been “drafted” for use as an official bridge. But the log has settled over the past couple of years, so the Forest Service has closed it to the public. That didn’t stop this group of scofflaws. We scampered across, and then hiked the final three-quarters of a mile to Cedar Flats. There we pitched our camp.

Over a meal of “Greek burritos” (read: Andrew’s hodge-podge dinner) and scotch whisky, we talked about resource depletion and economic collapse. Tim is a self-professed “doom and gloomer” who is concerned about the implications of a growing population in a world with finite resources. It was a fine discussion, one that lasted the entire weekend, but we did not solve the world’s ills.

Around the Campfire
Andrew and Paul, sitting around the campfire

Most years, the group spends Saturday hiking upstream to our favorite swimming hole. (The swimming hole depicted in the first photo on this page.) This year, however, nobody was interested. The weather was cool. Swimming in cold water didn’t sound fun.

Instead, Andrew and Tim made the 16-mile round-trip hike up Whetstone Mountain and back. The rest of us stayed in camp. Paul read and so did I. I spent a several hours pacing the 40 steps between two fallen logs, reading The Shipping News for book group. (I’ve become a master of reading while walking. It’s awesome.)

While we read (and napped), Josh explored. About 100 yards from camp, across some fallen trees, he found a sort of voluntary huckleberry farm — and an interesting fungus. He summoned me and Paul to see:

J.D. and Paul
J.D. and Paul on a log. Photo by Joshua Bennett.

On Sunday morning, I woke early. The air was cold. (Later the group agreed that the temperature was probably around 5 or 6 degrees centigrade.) Despite the chill, I crossed the creek and found a deep-ish spot where I could bathe. The water was not much cooler than the air, so it wasn’t a big deal. And it felt great. You can be sure that I was very alert after taking a cold bath on a cold morning.

There are few things I love more than spending time in the woods. I’m not sure why I don’t do it more often. It brings out something vital in me. I love exploring off the trail and playing in the creek and gathering wood for a fire and sleeping under the stars. And I love being surrounded by scenery. There’s so much beauty that one’s senses almost become dulled to it.

Opal Creek
Opal Creek just below Jawbone Flats

On Sunday morning, we packed up, hiked out, and climbed into our cars. After stopping for burgers and shakes, we drove home to our workaday lives. I’m already thinking of next year’s trip.

Flash of Insight

I’ve been itching to make more photographs lately, and to learn more about the craft. This interest is made more urgent by the fact that Celeste has asked me to be one of two photographers next weekend at her commitment ceremony with Nikki. I’m happy to do it, but also nervous because I haven’t used a camera regularly for more than three years.

Last night I picked up my seldom-used Nikon D90, attached a new SB-600 flash unit (the first flash unit I’ve ever used), and took some photos of the MNF group.

Background: When I was in high school, I was part of a church youth group: the Mennonite Youth Fellowship, or MYF. This group has remained friends for more than 20 years, though now many folks are in different churches. We call the group the “MNF group” because we used to get together to watch Monday Night Football — before there were so many kids…

It was fun getting re-acquainted with the camera. I didn’t get any great shots, but I had fun trying:

More importantly, I got to play with the flash unit. Having never used one before, I didn’t really know when or how to activate it. Eventually I realized that “fill flash” can be a powerful option, even in decent light. For example, here on the left is Diego running across a balance beam without flash. On the right is a similar shot with flash:


I like it.

This isn’t exactly earth-shattering news, I know. But as somebody who has rarely done flash photography, I’m intrigued by the possibilities.

I learned most of my photography skills by taking a series of community college classes. I’m tempted to take one again this fall to get more practice. I’m excited about dabbling in photography again. I’ve been away too long.