Note: after 6 weeks of summer visitors, our house is quiet enough to remember other summers, summers of damselflies and Nicola Lake.
A little more than a week ago, we spent time with part of our family in country we’ve loved forever. We stayed at Lac Le Jeune and we ventured out each day to swim in Nicola Lake (where we camped when our children were young, every summer, and where I began to realize that strands of landscape, history, and the scales of pine cones could be bound together as essays, the ones I first wrote in Red Laredo Boots and the ones I am still writing) or to explore the old part of Kamloops and swim (briefly) in the Thompson River. We would have done yet another familiar thing—lunch at the Quilchena Hotel, then a poke through the old store there, where I did finally buy the boots longed for in the title essay of Red Laredo Boots after receiving exactly the amount they cost in payment for another essay in the collection—but the hotel is closed because of the pandemic.
At Nicola Lake, I was swimming along the ropes delineating the safe area, when I noticed that every cork bobber had damselflies on it. Sometimes two, or more. They were so delicate and beautiful, the blue of them not quite the colour of the sky and certainly not the tea-colour of the lake, but an ethereal aqua. I went back to shore and told John. So he swam out to see them too. At times like that, I realize how little I know about bugs in general and damselflies in particular. The field-guide I had with me told me that these were almost certainly American bluets. That this genus, Enallagma, contains most of the damselflies in our area. that identification of the seven species we’re most likely to see isn’t easy for someone like me, a non-specialist, and that the mating damselflies remain connected until the female oviposits on the stems of the rushes and the resulting offspring hang around the submerged plant matter for the small invertebrates swimming near.
Do I need to know the species? No. The names of the possibilities are like a summer poem: Northern Bluet, Tule Bluet, Boreal Bluet, Familiar Bluet, Alkali Bluet, Marsh Bluet, Hagen’s Bluet. Knowing this, and that they’ve been around for 250 million years, and that they graced the cork bobbers while I swam, looking back at my own beautiful family on the shore, was enough. And while we swam and looked at bluets, an archaeological team was walking the sand, in search of remnants of tool production, was measuring the remains of kikuli depressions in the grass between the change rooms and the beach, and an eagle kept passing over the area, back and forth, flying so low I could see its empty beak. A boy stretched out in grass at a marmot hole and the air was dry and fragrant with pine sap. For a moment I couldn’t tell if the boy in the water with the boogie board was my grandson or his father, 35 years ago, if the girl stretched out on a towel was my granddaughter or her aunty, also blond and eager to swim, whether the young woman alone under the pine was the mother of my grandchildren or myself, longing for a quiet moment to think and remember. Boreal Blue, Familiar Bluet, stitching the years together.