The Octopus: An Alien Among Us — Michael S. A. Graziano on the Evolution of Animal Consciousness
She sat beside the lake, herself seated upon a bench made up of wood slats supported by a concrete frame. The slats appeared to have been painted a deep carmine when the bench had been originally constructed, though over the years—between the frigid depths of winter and the punishments of summer—the paint had been worn away, for the most part, with color only to be found in seams and crevices. The wear of the wood manifested a certain beauty, a wisdom, its erosion the evidence of venerated usage and tireless support for the wearinesses of passer-by.
She had been reconciling various problems, sorting through them and examining them for potential solutions, when a diminutive red dragonfly alighted beside her, it landing on the arm of the bench to her left. She paused her contemplations and turned her head to gaze down upon the winged insect, watching it with interest as the dragonfly began to clean itself with its frontmost legs.
The concrete arm of the bench was covered with a thin, splotchy layer of green moss, and the bright crimson body of the dragonfly contrasted against it wonderfully—the colorful scene composed like something in a film. The dragonfly continued to clean itself, pausing momentarily as if winded, and then dutifully returning to its ablutions—itself becoming an altogether polished thing.
After a number of hours (during which time she had barely blinked as she had been held in rapt attentiveness, the dragonfly becoming all the more beautiful, its diligence in grooming having brought its luster into an almost heavenly plane), the dragonfly took to the air only to land again, directly beside her on the bench—itself having grown to an incredible size. With the insect now having similar proportions relative to herself, she extended her arm and began to gently pet the dragonfly’s head, scratching it carefully between where the bristling hairs grew from the arthropod’s glistening exoskeleton.
The dragonfly’s enormous eyes pivoted to meet hers and at once they both became still and staring, themselves melting into one another’s admiration for the other. The sun had begun to set and the air chilled with the introduction of evening, their shadows stretching out across the ground until they met the edge of the lake—where minnows drank from the darkness until heavy. The lake’s softly pulsing waves lapped at the shore until all had dissolved into a kaleidoscopic melodiousness, with any previous distinctions having long since evaporated into the air which had persisted between them, their newfound harmony tunefully whispering into the delicate absence of loneliness they now shared.
Suddenly ashamed, she turned away from the dragonfly and back to her problems, still unsure as how best to order them, how best to find success in reducing each into a resolution. She leaned forward so that her forearms rested on her knees, her hands turned upwards, the fingers of each touching their counterpart at the tip. There were no minnows and the dragonfly had departed, her solitary shadow having disappeared into the gloom which had absorbed all. She sat silently, hoping to hear the sound of wings rushing in the dimness, though all that remained was the slow tick of her heart, its rueful beat little more than a patter of raindrops, as an absentminded cloud drifted lazily in front of a contemptuous moon.