Ode to the Firefly

One of the great pleasures of summer comes in a tiny, fiery package. Behold, the firefly. 

At the end of a long, hot, sticky day down on the farm recently, Farmer Brown and I kicked back with a glass of wine and sat down to The Night Show outside. At first, it was hard to tell what we were looking at. There, dotting the thick, inky air on the hillside below us were dozens, at first, then slowly, hundreds, then thousands of fireflies punctuating the darkness.

Sparkling, like shiny confetti…. reflections of the stars above…. stars themselves on Earth. It was as if I had just hit my head really hard, like in the cartoons. 

It reminded me of a time, some twenty-five years ago, when my husband and I were on a sailing trip in the Caribbean with his college buddy and had dropped anchor in a calm bay for the night. All of the sudden, tiny, glowing beings appeared in the water around us: glow worms emitting bioluminescence.  It is a natural phenomenon in which microscopic worms literally glow in the water and it took my breath away. These farm fireflies were like that: profuse and magical.

From our farm deck, the firefly display was impressive enough, but riding the four-wheeler down to the bottom of the hill, we were immersed in them, swimming in them, the inky black darkness around us forming a perfect canvas for their light show.

I was overwhelmed with gratitude. What an amazing, simple pleasure. As I reveled in their nighttime glow, I wrote a mental thank you note.

Thank you, fireflies, for being an added bonus of summertime. Thank you for giving children one more game – catching fireflies – at the end of long summer evenings when moms and dads are exhausted and need to sit and sip something cold and look on, remembering their own firefly hunts. Thank you for letting me catch you, put you in a jar and stare at you for hours, fogging up the glass with my grubby breath and boogery nose.  Sorry about squishing you, stepping on you and smearing your iridescence to make a glowing, gorgeous streak on the sidewalk as a kid. I did that only a few times because I couldn’t live with the guilt  of destroying something so beautiful and harmless.

Thank you for being one of the coolest insects ever. To my knowledge, you don’t bite, you delight. Why are you here? Are you just a whimsical gift from God? Did He think, “You know what? Fireflies … why not?” You don’t sting, you don’t buzz. Do you even pollinate?

Thank you for being the much cooler cousin to the beetle and, by the way, thank you for not eating my garden. Picking lettuce in our farm garden the other day, I discovered where you sleep during the day: under the wet lettuce leaves. But you didn’t eat the lettuce. What do you eat? Do you simply survive on the joy of children? Do you only need handclaps and laughter as your food, like Tinkerbelle?

Thank you for being so understated. You’re not much to look at by day, wearing your simple black suit with a smart orange strip down the middle. Very low key. Your big reveal comes when the sun goes down. 

I’ve read that your butt lights are all about attracting mates. That’s downright charming, romantic. Does a glass of rosé come with that candlelight? If I was an insect, I would be so envious that I hadn’t evolved to have luminescence. Well done, you. I hear that you speed up or slow down your blinking pattern: steady glow, flashing blinking, depending on whom you are seducing. Sexy stuff, Firefly. And with a life span of two months, you have no time to waste. Carpe candeo – seize the glow! I think that is my new motto. At least for summertime.

Thank you for choosing Ohio and the Midwest as one of the relatively few places in the country you hang out. You love humidity and we’ve got plenty of that in the summer. The coasts have the oceans, the west has the mountains, we have you. Thank you for summering on our farm. We are so glad to have you.

I guess I took you for granted in my youth, Firefly. You were always there in my dad’s backyard, dotting the thick air back by the pine trees and the railroad tracks. I would catch you, cup you gently in my chubby fist and slowly open my hand up, like a clamshell. There you would be, burning brightly inside my hand cave. Then, up you would rise, silently, effortlessly, lighting on my fingertip as if to check me out as I inspected you. And then, you were off, beaming up into the night sky. I would crane my head back and watch you rise as the enormous oak and elm tree branches would frame you and your shiny friends. 

Bye bye, Firefly! Thanks for the visit! Thanks for the memories! Carpe candeo!

Photo by Mindstyle/iStock / Getty Images  For other amazing photos of fireflies/lightening bugs, check out this website!  http://www.fireflyexperience.org/photos/

Photo by Mindstyle/iStock / Getty Images

For other amazing photos of fireflies/lightening bugs, check out this website! http://www.fireflyexperience.org/photos/