'We watched in absolute silence, afraid to breathe'

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The Independent Travel
For our RAC/IoS 'Eyewitness' competition we asked you to write about an occasion on which you were able to participate, as a member of a crowd, in witnessing some spectacular cultural or natural phenomenon. Our winner, Gloria Rigby, wrote about the day she and her class of schoolchildren watched an apparently insignificant piece of pond-life come into existence. Gloria wins a luxury holiday for two to the Scilly Isles at the time of the total eclipse of the sun on 11 August, 1999

THIRTY-THREE silent children and I - their teacher - were sitting motionless around the school pond. It was a beautifully hot, still summer morning. The only clear sounds were our blackbird family shouting out their alarm calls. They always object to us invading their territory.

There were the muffled sounds of children playing over in the field, but not a single one of my class even whispered. This lively, noisy, fidgety class was so quiet and still. We were all staring intently at the dragonfly nymph which had just crawled out onto the stem of a reedmace.

All through spring and early summer we had been here, excitedly pond- dipping whenever we could. The children had almost got used to finding dragonfly nymphs, and hawkers and darters would be identified and routinely separated from the rest of the dip. They knew that these voracious creatures could easily eat the others before they could be studied, named and sketched.

The children knew in detail the miraculous life-cycle of the dragonfly. The previous year, my last class had ducked as dragonflies had swooped over their heads. They had even watched in amazement as a pair actually mated and the female then proceeded to lay her eggs in our pond.

But this was different. We watched in absolute silence. We were almost afraid to breathe. The children were full of suppressed excitement, but they stayed calm.

The dragonfly nymph clung on, and we could imagine the split down its back. Then a crumpled creature squeezed itself out, desperately hanging on to the empty case. It held on tightly, as we knew it must. We also knew that this was the most vulnerable time. The soft body and wings would have to be inflated before hardening and before the dragonfly could take flight.

We willed our dragonfly to hold on, to pump fluid into its beautiful wings. I could feel the nervousness of the children, and I shared it.

Two years earlier, when my husband was digging our pond, I remembered saying that all I ever wanted was to see dragonflies there - to me, that would be the perfect reward for all his hard work. Now, we were watching the most wonderful sight imaginable.

We finally had to leave our dragonfly and reluctantly return to class. Every half-hour, two children went out to check on its progress. Just before lunch- time came the wonderful news that its wings were beginning to unfold. We crept out with our sandwiches to sit and eat by the pond. We could even see the blue and green of an emperor, the children's favourite.

Four hours had passed. Our emperor gave a shudder, it stretched its wings and suddenly it was in the air. The tension broke, the children cheered. They jumped up and down, they hugged each other and there were tears.

I cried too, for the beauty of the creature, for the happiness of the children and for the wonder of creation.

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