“Flora or Fauna, we are all shapeshifters and magical re-inventors. Life is really a plural noun, a caravan of selves.” – Diane Ackerman


Mid-way along my thru hike of the Superior Hiking Trail, I stopped to camp at Lake Egge. This heavily forested lake, near Finland MN, is on a part of the trail that veers up and away from Lake Superior, further inland. 


I was alone on the lake. This particular evening was very still and very quiet. A solitary loon across the lake called out on occasion.


I set up my tent close to the shore and sat facing the evening sun on a large rock that lay half in the water. I shared the rock with a large group of blue dragonflies. I watched as they took turns flying over the water to hunt, returning to their resting spots, sometimes landing on me.


I have always enjoyed watching dragonflies. Their ability to fly in any direction, their color variations, flight sounds and the way they land on reeds, rocks and plants is just some of the fascination.


Dragonflies are found everywhere. There is even one type that lives above the arctic circle.  They come in all colors. They are deeply connected to water, spending most of their lives underwater. Some varieties can live up to 5 years in water before they suddenly transform and take to the air for the final weeks of their lives.  


In recent years, many of the 3,000 species of dragonflies have become endangered because of forest and wetland clearance and car traffic near their traditional homelands.     


Their wing structure is from the dinosaur era, and they have been hunting and roaming this earth for a very long time.


Dragonflies are essentially flying eyeballs. 80% of their brain power is devoted to sight. They actually see in slow motion.  They capture 200 images a second and have 360-degree vision.


What I think is most remarkable about dragonflies is that they continuously transform themselves. 


I do not think I could look at one in its water-living state as a nymph and guess that it would become a dragonfly. Even then the changing does not stop. Dragonflies shed their outer coverings up to 17 times over their life, emerging from old shells.

 As I sat on the rock, watching these ancient hunters find mosquitos I thought about this ability of theirs.


So like them are we; changing and evolving as we live. And yet transformation in the direction of health and connection does not come easily.

What a gift to be able to renew and change so readily and easily.

I think about the difference between Renewal, which can occur after a good nap or a vacation or time well-spent with a friend, and transformation, which involves moving in a different direction, or changing daily habits, and is often hard work. 

I also think about how life can actually change us for the worse if we are not careful. Resentments, bitterness, hanging onto hurts and carrying them can become anchors that drag us down.

The other trouble with transformation is that much of it involves external societal and economic circumstances.


So what then? 


One gift we can give each other is to carry hope for change for each other. Research shows that a third of the reason anyone makes a positive change in their life is because they sense that others believe they can do it. Even if it is not said out loud. If you really believe in someone, they will sense it and it will make a difference.


We can also imagine a more just and equitable community where opportunity for growth and change is open to more people.


Finally, we can practice daily letting go of resentments and stop the scapegoating, the writing people off, that we engage in or we allow others to engage in.


I believe in you. Your life is just beginning. Your experiences are a portal to a transformed life.


Fly. See. Connect.


Gifts of the Superior Hiking Trail – The Dragonfly by Mikkel Beckmen won third place in the Saint Paul Almanac’s Break Through Writing Contest in the category of creative non-fiction.

Mikkel Beckmen lives in Minneapolis. He is a washboard player and foot soldier in the human rights struggle to end homelessness. Mikkel is very nosy and therefore likes to travel and observe and participate in the human condition.  He rides his bicycle whenever he can. This piece is part of a larger set of unpublished essays based on thru hiking the Superior Hiking Trail, from the Canadian Border to Wisconsin.

Posted in: Places, Prose