Fireflies June 15, 2010

Officially, summer begins on the summer solstice, June 21.

In actuality, as any school-child or teacher can tell you, summer begins on the day that his or her own school lets out for summer vacation.  This year, summer begins on June 23, at least for me.  However, it’s doing a very nice warm-up act already.

Last night, I was dumbfounded by the fireflies in my yard.

I grew up with fireflies–and crickets, and song-birds, and trees.  I remember that when I was perhaps eleven years old, I read a Ripley’s Believe it or Not anecdote about a doctor who was able to perform a surgery, once, by the light of a jar of fireflies.  As a kid, that seemed utterly plausible to me.  I remember that many, many nights in my childhood, my brother and I would roam the yard, with jars in hand, catching fireflies.  We caught a lot–though never enough to light a surgery, I must admit.

But even in the years I lived in Vermont, as an adult, the fireflies seemed to have faded away.  There never seemed to be very many, anywhere I lived–certainly not in the small city where I’ve lived for the past eighteen years.

Until this summer.  Living here, in this new house that reminds me so much of my childhood, I’ve noticed the fireflies are back.  Last night, around bed-time, checking to see that the front door was locked, I noticed them twinkling in the grass and at the edge of the woods, and so I left the door ajar and went out onto the lawn to just sit for a few moments.

There were no stars overhead, because the night was one of those humid, murky ones where you just about pray for a thunderstorm.  Instead, the stars were all out on the grass.

As I sat and I watched them, I thought of references in Aradia to the magic of the firefly.  What if all the fireflies were fairies?  What if, as was once believed of moths, they were the souls of the dead, not yet gone?  It seemed almost believable.

I heard mysterious rustling from the edge of the woods.  I know my new neighborhood has a bear family living in it, and they’ve often been spotted crossing the yards hereabouts.  (It was probably a bear cub running across ours that lured our dog out into the road, and into his near-fatal accident last fall.)  And yet, I could not be afraid.  I thought instead of the anecdote Mike Novack tells, of a friend of his who once, out in early spring inspecting brush piles in his woods, turned over the top of one to discover a bear sow and two cubs.  Mike says he backed away, letting the brush settle back into place, saying quietly and politely, “Excuse me, Madam!  I am so sorry to have disturbed you.”

And I thought of the story of my own friend, Kirk White, out meditating in his own back yard in Vermont, when he felt something small and warm climb into his lap.  When he half-opened his eyes and glanced down, he saw that he had made a new friend: a young skunk.

He continued to meditate, perhaps sitting even more quietly, until the skunk decided it was time to go.

Sometimes, the natural world seems so much like home that it is impossible to feel like a stranger in it.  Sometimes, I get to feel like a child again, in the best possible way: that I am eleven years old again, barefoot and in my pajamas, filling a jar with they mystery of fireflies.

Last night was such a night.

This summer, I hope for many such nights, and many such days.  There is so much busy-ness that can absorb an adult mind.  May I not be so much caught up in travel, planning, writing, correspondence, that I forget to take a few hours every day to look up at leaves from below, to watch ants traveling through the jungle of the grass, or to watch a hawk making lazy circles overhead.

So mote it be.

Image of fireflies from Wikimedia Commons: found at “Signs of Summer” at Jonski Blogski

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