It is Eiseley’s best known essay, his story about the starfish thrower on the beach at Costabel. The star thrower picked up starfish who had been flung onto the beach by the surf, and threw them back into the water, so that they might have a chance to live. Eiseley, an anthropologist and naturalist, called the hand stretched out in pity to another species “the subtle cleft in nature before which biological thinking had faltered.” For, he said, “From Darwin’s tangled bank of unceasing struggle, selfishness, and death, had arisen, incomprehensibly, the thrower who loved not man, but life…there looms, inexplicably, in nature, something above the role men give her.”
Several years ago, I rescued a drowning dragonfly from the Mississippi river and set it on a nearby log. A couple of minutes later, I felt something on my shoulder. A dragonfly had alighted there, and what's more, it appeared to be gazing at me when I turned my head towards it. I saw no other dragonflies in the area, and the one I had rescued was gone from the log where I had placed it. It occurred to me that this was the same dragonfly, and that it knew I had rescued it. I told myself that this was impossible; it was just coincidence. Yet over the years whenever I remembered the incident, I was struck by the strange feeling I'd had when I turned to see the dragonfly on my shoulder. Although I have tried to convince myself that the dragonfly couldn't have known, some inner sense, or perhaps nonsense, or perhaps obstinacy, speaks of something else. Maybe nature is more generous with intelligence than we have dared to imagine, and other forms of life are more subtle and mysterious than we know.