Korea, Streams, Creeks & Rivers, Urban Walking
Comments 8

The Lost Art of Dragonfly Charming

There were four times last Summer when the magic worked.

The first was in mid-July. At that time there were those two sad dogs I used to visit and feed each day, all the while plotting their liberation and transport to a place where they could live unchained, eat real food, walk, run: all the good stuff.

It was a beautiful dream while it lasted, and the longer it lasted the less a dream it seemed. I’d resumed drinking beer around that time, to help with living here, and had started taking a bottle with me on my afternoon visits, giving the girls their bowls of food, then telling them, “I’ll be back later with your bones, so make sure you finish all that first.”

There was no need to remind them, really. The bowls would be licked spotless within a minute or two, then they’d scour the ground in a frenzy like, well, starving dogs.

I’d go up the road a few minutes with my beer, the dogs straining on their chains to watch, cut through someone’s driveway and clamber down over the boulders of the manmade creek bank to a spot I’d found out of sight of passersby. It wasn’t perfect — the highway crouched over the creek not far upstream; weeds and trash hugged the banks — but it was good enough, and it got better with every slug of my $1:50 Budweiser.

There were always dragonflies patrolling the banks too. Sometimes one would perch nearby on a rock and tolerate my incursion, up to a point. I’d soak my feet in the cool water, then sit right in a pool for a minute or two. Refreshed, I’d try edging closer, wondering whether I could get my companion to step onto my fingertip. Sometimes I was just about patting it on the head, which seemed to cock like a dog’s as the finger advanced and it watched warily through those inscrutable compound eyes.

Invariably I’d cross that invisible line and the insect would take off — but if there’s one thing I’d learned about dragonflies it was that, within limits, they always come back.

And this one afternoon, just before dark…success:


It was a beautiful moment. Those tiny claws finding purchase on the fingernail: did it trust me, or had I just fooled it? I had fun playing with the silhouettes against the setting sun up the Daecheong Valley — luckily it was my left hand, because I needed the right to try to aim and focus, an almost impossible task in the low light.

This shot was in homage to the dogs I’d soon be sneaking back to with their bones:


And this one is just both of us reaching for the unknown:


I had no more luck with the dragonflies for a while, and none with the dogs either — they’d vanished within a month, the sadistic brute who “looked after” them moving them somewhere private where passersby like me couldn’t see their state and make him look bad.

At the end of September, nearing my home after a weekend walk, I decided to try again with one sitting on a crude fence post bordering a garden:

Lord of the Cabbages

Lord of the Cabbages

No luck at first — you could feel the apprehension:


But then…



This one soon let itself be charmed into making a few return flights:




I really enjoyed this game, and perhaps he or she did too, but then it started to rain…


..and my partner was preoccupied with dodging drops…


..and I with keeping my camera dry.


Flights Cancelled Due to Inclement Weather

I called last dance and hurried home with my camera under my shirt.

Third time’s the charm. It happened a few days later when for some reason I can’t recall I had the afternoon off school. Sleep-walked down to Yulha and found myself in Dragonfly Central. After lots of photography, I felt kinda lucky, and sidled over to one perched on a weed.

Really, you just have to show the dragon who’s boss — walk right over and extend your hand, don’t let a hundred rejections kill your nerve:


This one was special, ’cause right then a girl came over with two or three younger boys who stood there awestruck while my insect friend and I worked our magic. She said hello, we exchanged a few sentences. Something about her seemed familiar, and she seemed to be looking at me closely — but they walked off.

I was still playing with dragons when they came back half an hour later…




.. and suddenly I remembered.

“Hey, do you go to N_______ (aka Hell) Middle School?”

Her face lit up. “Yes. Ma! [I think that’s what she said — presumably “Wow!” or “Ahhh!”] You are Ian?”

“Yes! I thought I recognised you. I’ve got this beard, so I look a bit different.”

She explained to the boys in Korean and they soon took off again. I got a kick out of imagining her going back to Hell Skool and telling them she’d seen Ian roaming the creek banks with a beard, playing with insects. They wouldn’t be too surprised.

I had one more close encounter of the anisopteran kind that Summer. It was three days later, in early October, and it was at the bottom of that cabbage garden street where I had #2.

I was going out somewhere when I saw this fellow…


..and I just got a lucky feeling…


..so I persisted, even when my target repeatedly rejected my advances and I kept stepping back, waiting till it looped back again, until finally:




Again, I had an audience. It was my final performance of the season, and the crowd loved it:


Fellow dragonfly freaks will surely enjoy the adventures & knowhow of the Dragonfly Whisperer!

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote



  1. What a great true story! Love the homage to the dogs. Will look at dragonflies differently from now on.

    • I’m sure they’re eaten somewhere in this country, where larvae are a popular street-vendor food. I haven’t had the pleasure, and will die grateful.

      All the best for 2014!

  2. I think you are in danger of deserving a new nickname! I am going to have to try this as soon as the first dragons put in an appearance this year. Those shots, especially the one of the dragon coming in to land, are really great. A bit jealous actually.
    Dragons have been around for eons, and seeing them making a very happy home among all the debris of urban Korea makes me think they’ll be around long after we have finally trashed this planet beyond our ability to live on it.

    • Oh, yes, I have no doubt the dragons will outlive us. I have very few shots of them in flight, as you can imagine. Maybe this year I will manage that macro I’ve been talking about forever. The lakes nearby are apparently playgrounds for these beasts in Summer.

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