Messin’ With Texas
Chasing Six-Legged Stars Across the Lone Star State
To leave Vermont in summertime is to take leave of your senses. To abandon the comfort and kindness of our short summer season for the brutality expressed in heat and humidity here in Texas … well, you had better have a damned good reason for doing something like that.
There’s your reason above: Blue-faced Ringtail (Erpetogomphus eutainia). We met beside the Guadalupe River in south-central Texas on Monday. This diminutive and festive insect, no longer than your pinky, is one of the rarest dragonflies in the U.S. When he landed on that stem of grass, in the relative comfort of an 86-degree, dripping-humid morning, I dropped to my knees in adulation — and in a burst of photography so that I could share this spectacular animal with all of you.
Blue-faced Ringtail alone might have been enough to get me to Texas in summer. But on this lone star journey of mine, an adventure in the frontiers of exploration and perspiration, in strange roadkill and roadside gun shops, in shocking commercial sprawl and endemic rural poverty, I’m discovering profound natural beauty in a harsh American state.
I’m not the only foreigner chasing dragonflies in the heat of Texas, which is hosting the annual meeting of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas (of which I am president) and the International Congress of Odonatology, put on by the World Dragonfly Association. I’ll also point out that some international and American biologists and dragonfly enthusiasts are skipping or boycotting these Texas meetings because of Donald Trump as well as U.S. and Texas policies on immigration and human rights. I support their actions (even though they have not asked the rest of us to skip these meetings in solidarity).
As it turns out, my home state of Vermont has a fine record of messing with Texas. Back in 2001, when Vermont Senator James Jeffords left the Republican party (then quaint by today’s low political standards) he single-handedly flipped the U.S. Senate (at the time split 50-50 with Dick Cheney presiding) from Republican to Democrat control. I recall that Texas Senator Phil Gramm, who as a result lost his chairmanship of the Banking Committee, was particularly incensed and strident and critical of Jeffords (even though Gramm himself had once been a Democrat). I’m pretty sure that’s when we started to see “Don’t Mess with Vermont” bumper stickers proudly displayed.
Vermont and Texas do have a few things in common. Well, sort of. Texas has both kinds of beer: Bud and Bud Lite. Vermont’s got IPA and IPA. They’ve got both kinds of music: Country and Western. We’ve got VPR and everything we need on WDEV. They’ve got Ted Cruz (ick) and we’ve got Bernie Sanders.
Insects know of no such chasms. They just fly around and make me forget the heat and the chiggers. So, in tribute to Jim Jeffords and to you, I’m messin’ with Texas in my own way. Here is but a small sampling of what I’m seeing. Click on any image to start your slide show or for a more complete view of each critter — you know, bigger … like Texas.