It’s late spring, and I can’t sleep. The woods behind the house are hosting fireflies. Knowing that makes me restless. To squander firefly season seems as heedless as failing to dress out for a meteor shower.
When I was little and exiled in the foothills, the fireflies came right up in the front yard, low enough to play with.
But here, near the coast, they seemed to behave differently. They stuck chiefly to the woods, flirting with each other from opposite sides of tall pines. A different species, I figured … until the June evening my husband and I entertained three young brothers.
At first, our charges devoted themselves to the usual spheres—baseballs, golf balls and dodge balls. Then, at dusk, I heard the redhead cry, “There’s one!” Sure enough, there were fireflies—not in the woods but in the yard! Down low! For the next hour, the blinkers established their own rules of dodge ball, while two adults and three children gave chase, laughing ourselves silly.
We jumped like giants and caught them. We let them go. We bottled a few and admired them through glass. We let them go. We held them in a loose fist and watched our skin glow. We let them go. We danced in the dark as the fireflies wagged-wagged up, down and away.
After their lawful owners claimed the boys, I started wondering. Why had I not seen fireflies in the yard? After all, I had parked myself on the screened porch many a night, raptly admiring the way the woods twinkled. Could it be that child-sweat is sweet to fireflies? Or was it simply that they wouldn’t play in the yard unless I did?
And so I lie awake, wondering if I should exercise in the backyard at midnight.
I have thousands of questions for fireflies, but only a few that seem pressing. For example, what happens when they reach the treetops?
For hours, now, they’ve been slowly rising, starting near ground level, rising to knee level, then midsection and shoulder and head-height and higher. At 11:22, some are signaling that the atmosphere at 15 feet aloft is electrifying.
I admire the leisurely pace of their ascent. I’ve never seen a firefly dart. They navigate like bubbles on the night breezes, down a little, up a little, down and up and up.
If I go inside and come back an hour later, the entire band has, by near unanimous agreement, moved up a level. Clearly, they are all rising—a most gentle ascent, and what I need to know is whether or not they stop. Are the tops of the tall pines high enough? Or do they waft until the atmosphere thins and they’re snatched up on an all-night joyride?
Do they realize that the stars are not their kind?
What is their message? I know that there has to be one, and that it’s probably set to music in their heads, and that its refrain goes, “Glory, glory, glory!”
And I want to know how—when the light of day burns forth—how they fold their wings and turn off the batteries and conserve such tender energy.
I cannot ask them. I never learned the code. What I have discovered, however, is that playing with the fireflies isn’t age-specific. Neither is it necessary to smell like a little boy who has leapt and tackled and wrestled himself clammy in the twilight to attract their company. I simply have to go to them … go to them, instead of expecting them to come to me.
Margaret Locklair writes and edits from her home in Berkeley County. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.