Mills-Norrie State Park

Ebony Jewelwing. (photo by Rich Parisio)

Ebony Jewelwing. (photo by Rich Parisio)

I must confess I had to steel myself for this walk in the blazing sunlight of a torrid July morning. But I was already at the park for a kayak tour from the marina, in which I was sure to get wet and catch some cooling winds on the river. Besides, I had just discovered the quiet “Hopeland” area of the state park, removed from the bustle of the boat basin and campground. The trails shown on the interpretive kiosk traversed places with intriguing names like Falcon Field, Dragonfly Pond and Pine Meadow. I wanted to explore them despite the heat, already intense by mid morning.

One trail loop leads to a meadow which is indeed dominated by white pines, medium-sized trees with the spreading crowns that typify trees that have grown in open fields, so unlike the tall, straight trunks of forest pine trees. A side trail branched off at this point, leading through the pines to a giant stone bench, made from huge slabs of sandstone (by whom I don’t know), which overlooked an open meadow full of flowers, including milkweed, vetch, ox-eye daisies, musk mallows and St. Johnswort. I tried the bench and found it still cool to the touch, the sun’s rays not yet having reached it. I pressed my back against the massive stone and savored a few minutes of rest and contemplation, listening to the lively song of an indigo bunting and glimpsing flashes of cobalt blue when the bird took flight.

The number and variety of dragonflies and damselflies in the air these days seem to have reached a seasonal peak. Some have clear wings, some banded, and their tails can be white, green, blue or red. All dragonflies appear clad in a gleaming suit of armor and have mobile heads and huge compound eyes able to track the slightest movement of a would-be prey or predator. Damselflies are comparatively slender and hold their wings up rather than horizontally like dragonflies. One of the most striking damselflies right now is the ebony jewelwing, well named for the exquisite contrast between its smoky-black wings and emerald body. Whereas most dragonflies zip through the air like jet fighters, making them hard to see closely, the ebony jewelwing’s fluttering flight made it easy to follow and photograph when it perched on a leaf.