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May 20, 2024

Oort Cloud Oddities: Dragonfly Swarm

By Alexandra Queen

When I'm not embarrassing my family or reviling Ashton Kutcher in humorous essay, I mostly write about travel clothing for a living.

The fun part of the project is all the interesting geographic locations I get to work into the copy. Fun places to stay, like the Beckham Creek Cave, a nicely sized, living cave in Arkansas that has been remodeled into a bed and breakfast, complete with big screen TV under the stalactites and a flowstone pool next to the stairwell. Fun places to go, like Ca'Toga, an estate up in Napa owned by an artist who has made rooms that look like the inside of a giant bird cage (complete with cat peering in at you) and who has constructed authentic looking Roman ruins out of waste concrete the nearest city had left over when they tore out sidewalks.

I was following a train of research on the pampero winds of Uruguay and Argentina (no, that's not the weird part, really) when I came across an account of a naturalist in South America who claimed to have witnessed a "dragonfly storm". Ten minutes before the sudden gusts of the pampero wind, hundreds of dragonflies sometimes appear, swarming off the grasslands and looking for anything tall to land on. Trees, buildings, people on horseback  once the swarm finds something to cling to, they land on it in droves and hang on for dear life until the violent but brief pampero blows past. My project manager was adamant that "Lovelier than a cloak of living dragonflies  and so much more comfortable than dealing with all those little legs," would not help sell sweaters.

Every season I have at least one idea my project manager deems simply too weird to use. This year it was swarms of dragonflies. Last year, it was a road trip to visit the gas station in Pacific Grove that was mentioned in Steinbeck's novel, "Cannery Row". Anyway, I was sent back to the drawing board with strict instructions to avoid mentioning sudden swarms of dragonflies in Uruguay, the swarms of blackflies and mosquitoes that can actually kill a grown man who doesn't protect himself up in Canada, the spruce budworm moths whose swarms are bioluminescent and are frequently mistaken for UFOs in Utah, and the plagues of locusts occasionally blown across the Sahara into Egypt. Apparently other people just don't buy clothes for the same reasons I do.

Because of the need to have things in place in advance, it usually happens that in the winter, I write about flimsy summer clothes. In the summer, I write about warm winter apparel. This year, I had to write about thick, bulky, sweaters and the incredible insulating properties of fleece while my air conditioning was broken. And there was a heat wave. And the dog was breathing on my leg.

It was a tough season for me all around. The lack of air conditioning seemed to affect the entire family. The kid was cranky. The younger dog developed irritable bowel issues (all over the carpet). My computer crashed twice, losing half a project (which had to be done over again). My husband's computer, which I was using as a backup, had a fan go out so that if we wanted to use it, we had to take the case apart and run a household box fan on it at top speed. I was up until one a.m. almost every night, leaning into the torrential wind currents from the box fan and pushing to meet my deadline. All without mentioning bugs. It was tricky, given that I was in a "plague of locusts" frame of mind.

But the project is in and I have survived. And after a month of writing about clothes, I've decided to swear off them. Not just writing about them, but wearing them. National Nude Recreation week was just last week (by interesting coincidence, NNR week falls in the same month as National Stay Out of the Sun Day, Mosquito Week, Lyme Disease Awareness Week, National Hot Dog Day and the anniversary of the death of Morris the Cat). If anyone stops screaming and clawing at their eyes long enough to ask me why I'm naked, I figure I can just tell people I forgot to take down my holiday decorations. After all, in this climate, who needs clothes, really? It's not like we have to worry about a sudden swarm of dragonflies.

Comments about anything other than clothing to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.

This article first appeared in the July 14, 2005 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.

Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-08-29
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