I discovered one, perhaps the only, benefit to the ghastly heat and humidity that has relentlessly descended upon us. Last week, while driving home, I was witness to the most elaborate firefly extravaganza I have ever seen in my fifty years of firefly watching. The moisture and record-breaking warm temperatures have spurred the last of the fireflies for the season into a frenzy.
As I drove out of Rochester just after dusk, I first noticed numerous little lights blinking in the tall grass in along the ditches. When I got to the cornfields, it appeared as if someone had strung tiny greenish-white lights acre after acre for as far as I could see. The effect was a silent blanket of miniature fluorescent fireworks. Perhaps it is the silence that made the spectacular display all the more stunning.
The scene felt like a confluence of Midsummer Night’s Dream, Some Enchanted Evening, and Tinker Bell, all wrapped into one delightful experience. But all of this was more than mere entertainment. The male fireflies were earnestly showing off as they flew past the females, hoping one would blink back, and they could energetically contribute to the survival of their species.
At the same time, the scene is reminiscent of the innocence of childhood; summer evenings generation after generation have spent chasing the little lightening bugs, hoping to capture some of their magic in glass jars, wanting to make it last. My friend Yuko tells me that her parents fondly remember chasing hotaru in Japan. Imagine children worldwide chasing fireflies, calling them by their native tongue, on summer evenings wherever they exist.
I admit I wasn’t very Thoreauvian that night. Parked on the side of the road, I watched the display comfortably from inside my air-conditioned car, protected from the dense humidity and heat. Even if I had been willing to get out of the car, I couldn’t have found or carried a jar large enough to hold a fraction of the firefly magic I saw, but what I experienced was enough to fill my heart and imagination for a longtime, and at least for a few moments they distracted me from the endless, sober news of Federal budget talks and Presidential candidate posturing.