Saturday, June 7, 2014


At first, it appeared to be coming from across the pond. With July fourth just days away, it wouldn't be unusual to see flashing lights from across the pond. But no sound accompanied these quick flashes, so I got up to investigate. There it was again, once, twice, and as I neared the window, I realized it wasn't fireworks at all, but a single firefly clinging to the outside of the screen. Every few seconds, its tiny lamp flashed, once, twice, as it crept slowly along the mesh. After awhile, I lost sight of it when it either moved out of my range of vision of flew off into the warm muggy night.

When I looked into the distance to the woods beyond, I saw that they were teeming with more fireflies, as nature held her own little fireworks show. I couldn't keep up with all the tiny flashes, going off in unpredictably in different spots, and each in pairs. They called to mind other summer nights when, as children, my sister and I chased after these small insects in our backyard in Biddeford. One time, my mother caught several in a jar, effectively creating our very own little night-light that she let us enjoy until she told us that bugs aren't happy in jars and released them back into the night.

Fireflies, or lightning bugs, are small brownish beetles that measure about an inch long and live for about two months. They generate their signature glow in light organs located just below their abdomens where oxygen mixes with a substance called luciferin that produces light but very little heat. The process is called bioluminscence, and the flashing pattern, different in each of the 2,000 species, is used primarily to attract mates or to warn potential predators that fireflies aren't very tasty.

In some instances, enough lightning bugs gathered in one place engage in synchronized flashing during which they signal to each other in succession, creating an effect that is not unlike a lighted Christmas tree. While I've never seen this phenomenon, I have witnessed instances when a wooded area simply sparkles with their intermittent flashes.

All science aside, fireflies, winged cousins to the glow-worm, possess the ability to momentarily dispel the discomfort of a hot muggy night, and in the process, transform an otherwise dark foreboding place into a scintillating earthly sky filled with stars that don't stay in one place for very long. Just when I'm feeling withered and worn from another scorching day, longing for cooler weather and anticipating yet another long and sleepless night of tossing and turning, these tiny beacons illuminate the way back to tolerance and patience, two virtues that come in very handy for someone who isn't a big fan of summer's heat and mugginess.

Heat lightning is another welcome reward at the end of an unbearably warm day. Generally not the harbingers of a storm, the flashes brighten the sky above the tree line, sharply delineating their branches against the quick bursts of white light. On a much grander scale than the humble light emitted by fireflies, they claim the night in a quietly dramatic way, erasing all memory of the day.

Each season brings its own set of challenges, but not without also offering us the solace that only nature's beauty provides. During the day, the beauty is evident on all sides because of the light. On summer nights, from the tiny glow of a firefly to the lightning that brightens the sky, the light is everything, taking center stage, commanding our full attention.

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