I concentrate, trying to eliminate the “plop” my paddle make makes as I dip it into the water. Behind me, our tracks unfurl: cut from the flat surface of the lake by the canoe, translucent wavelets unfurl and ripple languidly in opposite directions, bracketed by the dots of water circles that our paddles create. Tethered to us by sunshine, our shadow quivers over the sandy bottom of the lake – a mirror image, underwater.
I turn around to smile at Sam who is steering us further away from shore to where the deeper water is, where the pike are. Or so we hope, with thoughts of dinner. Swallows scoop mosquitoes out of the heat laden air. Could an ear sensitive enough hear the tiny pauses as bugs get picked from the multitude, altering the incessant whine?
“What’s that splashing?” Sam asks suddenly. I turn around and see him pointing his chin to the right of us. Something small is churning up the water at a feverish pace. There is a papery whirring: a waterlogged dragonfly, desperately trying to get airborne again.
“If you get us closer, I can try to fish it out,” I say. I reach out with my paddle and manage to scoop it up. The insect clings to the wet wooden blade as I ferry it over to the boat and put it down on the gunwale. Or rather, try to put it down: now that it has something solid under its feet, it is very reluctant to let go. “How’s it doing?” Sam asks, already aiming us back at the pike spot again.
“Hanging on tight,” I mutter and finally succeed in transferring it from my paddle to the canoe. The dragonfly slowly turns itself into the slight breeze and begins to wipe its head. Its body points at me like a compass needle and the bouquet of translucent wings trembles in the hot air.
A minute later, Sam’s fishing line whips past me and the lure plops into the lake, sinking to where the canoe has long lost its shadow. As if wanting some privacy, the lake only reflects the sky and clouds now, keeping its secrets to itself. “Keep going,” Sam says, when of a sudden our peace is shattered by the insect version of a fighter jet. With a menacing buzz, a horsefly darts around my head, zeroing in for the most opportune way to rip a bite out of my skin.
I dodge and swipe at it, always a precarious manoeuvre in a canoe. Cunning creature: it has us neatly pinned to this piece of fibreglass, to this lake. The horsefly changes strategies and lands in front of me, almost within striking distance. There must be a way to speed it into horsefly heaven, a circle of hell that Dante never knew about, populated by billions of mosquitoes, blackflies, deerflies, and no-see-ums busily sucking and biting their hapless victims into eternity.
Gingerly, I lift the paddle out of the water. The horsefly stares at me like from behind the green-grey Venetian blinds that shade its eyes. The triangular fangs that Count Dracula would envy are ready to bite. I take a swing at it with the paddle, miss the horsefly that rises into the air with a dismissive buzz and instead knock the dragonfly back into the water.
Splashing frantically, it tries to swim back to the canoe. A pike strikes at the lure and as Sam hooks it and reels it in, I lean out to scoop up the dragonfly. Behind me, the fish thrashes on the line. I put down the dragonfly on the gunwale again, by now a relatively experienced canoeist as far as insects go. It stares at me from behind its plush covered glasses – what? I take a closer look at its bizarre carnival face. Indeed, it appears to be wearing glasses, the frames of which are covered in vibrant green fuzzy stuff. Below that is a skull-shaped mask, patterned in dull red and white.
“Ho-ly,” I breathe, amazed. With a sudden crackle of its wings, the dragonfly breaks the spell and whirs off into the air where the horsefly is still busy taking dives at us. “Let’s get away from the bloody fly,” Sam shouts and turns the canoe back towards shore. We pull hard on the paddles, laden with the gifts of a hot summer afternoon: a pike for dinner, the discovery of another dimension of Dante’s Inferno, and the strange oddball beauty of a dragonfly face.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.