It is short. A fleeting lifespan in which a beating heart tremors, organs pump and the electricity of life undulates through tiny receptors and the cells which comprise them. On feeble wings of glass, she emerges from her paper shell. Thin bodied; long and brown with dancing legs on pinprick feet. With no time to assess, she flaps and hopes that instinct will carry her body upwards. It does. On the breeze she tumbles across the lake, dropping and ascending with the currents until she harnesses the strength in her tiny wings and flies a more stable flight.
As the sun peeps out from a wide scatter of clouds, she flutters in the rays of heat. Eyes on every angle, watching. She watches for birds which may swiftly swoop and swallow her fragile form. She searches the atmosphere for her own kind; the dull, vibrating hum of gentle wings flying low. Leaves, spiralling on the drafts which buffer through the field, wafting the scent of flowers and bare rock. With senses heightened, she hears the buzzing of a wasp nest in a bush half a mile away. She knows to keep her distance. Pollen is thick this time of year. She can feel it accumulating on her body. It pours from the bark of a nearby tree and pulsates from open flowers like the beating of a drum.
She flies to an old oak to rest her weary wings and observes another creature beside her. A mirrored image of herself, with wings and legs and a head she instinctively recognises as similar to her own. The male flickers his wings. They’re glassy and pattered and larger than the wings she’s been gifted. She marvels at the colour of his body: a woody amber. Vibrant yet camouflaged against the bark of the oak tree which surrounds them. For seven seconds, they mate. She knows to leave as soon as it’s over, and she does. Time stands still for no insect.
For the first time, she understands her purpose. Her life is now filled with the meaning of her tiny existence, and with expectation growing inside her, she must fly fast back to the pond. Once there, she will bide her time. Her life now lies in her ability to lay low and protect herself from harm. She lands on a leafy stem and crawls downward towards its base of roughage and narrow safety. Here she can eat and rest a while, hidden from predators and protected from the strengthening wind which sweeps across the land.
Our hours are her days, and in her body, she sleeps for a week. Rested and ready, she knows her time of purpose is at hand. Leaving her grassy hiding place, she approaches the water’s edge, and finds a still patch in which to disperse her eggs. In just one critical moment, she, along with thousands of others that day, ensures the very future of her gene. Seconds later, she flies upward, dancing, soaring, twisting in the wind. It captures her in its billowy wrath and cruelly sends her spiralling to the ground again.
Her body is weak. In the soil she lies between the towering grass. She tries to fly but barely leaves the ground. She tries to move, but her legs ache. She knows, despite her tiny brain and limited consciousness, what is happening to her. With her life’s purpose fulfilled, her lifeline is wavering, her wings are heavy, and her body is failing. The wind howls through the valley, skimming the dark waters of the lake and battering the hardy bulrushes. It quakes the branches of every tree and sweeps in waves through the field like an angry ocean storm. And somewhere in that grass, unbeknownst to any other living organism, one more tiny light goes out.