Volume 12, Issue 27 ~ July 1-7, 2004
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Bay Reflections

Don’t Miss Nature’s Fireworks
by Vivian I. Zumstein

Dusk descends. A few tardy birds twitter overhead while insects on the nightshift tune up for their orchestral performance. Two owls, rousing from their daytime slumber, call back and forth. The last of three hoots ends in a long, drawn-out trill, echoing through the trees.

Emily and Tommy sit with me on the patio step, a small, plastic terrarium ready at their feet. My children shift their weight on the hard step while scanning the lawn before them, especially along the forest’s edge.

The setting of the sun brings little relief to this hot, humid day. The air presses in. It has a texture, a consistency I can almost feel. I sense a need to force it out of my way to move, like a swimmer pushing against water. As I draw the heavy air into my mouth and lungs, I taste the reek of liberally applied mosquito repellent that hangs thick about us.

We drip with sweat. Tommy’s naked back glistens. I raise a hand to wipe the gathering moisture from my forehead. Too late. A salty droplet stings as it slithers unchecked into my eye.

Hot. Oppressive. Perfect.

Tommy spots it first. “I see one!” he shrieks. Emily and I follow the direction of his pointing finger, but the evidence is already gone. We strain our eyes. A few seconds later, we all see the tiny yellow flash. Tommy races across the lawn. The firefly flashes again, but it has drifted up out of Tommy’s reach. He leaps, stretching his little-boy stick arms as he makes repeated futile grabs at the illusive insect. A slow flyer, the firefly has altitude as one of its few defenses.

“Darn! I missed it,” laments Tommy.

Another light flashes near him. This time he snatches the firefly from the air with a deft hand. “I got it!” he announces, rushing back to deposit his trophy in the terrarium.

“Careful,” I caution. “It has a soft body. Don’t squish it.”

Emily and I add to the catch. We work quickly, knowing we have only about 30 minutes between when the fireflies first emerge and when it will be too dark to bag them between flashes. The terrarium fills.

We work our way out of our yard en route to our neighbor’s large, open lawn. In the fading light, the kids zigzag across the wide expanse of grass, snagging one firefly after the other, often scampering back with two or three captives in their small fists. Their laughter competes with the insect symphony.

Then it’s over. The growing darkness gives the fireflies the upper hand. By the time we reach where we have seen a flash, our target has already moved, hidden by the night like a diving duck disappearing under the water and popping up in an unexpected location.

We settle down to count the flashing fireflies in our terrarium. Our counts vary as the profusion of captive beetles meander over and under each other in search of escape. We decide 71 is a good number.

We then settle in to watch nature’s show. Lights dance above the lawn as males signal to potential mates. We try to discern the answering lights from the females on or near the ground but see none. Is tonight nothing more than a wild, fruitless bachelor party for which the girls forgot to show up? Perhaps, but the twinkling males persevere.

In response to their confinement, the light show of our captives fades to nothing. “Is it time?” I prompt.

Emily scrutinizes the beetles. “Yeah,” she concedes. Tommy nods his agreement.

I pop the top off. Fireflies crawl to freedom, pausing for a moment at the terrarium’s lip before spreading outer wings and taking flight with soft, supple inner wings. Once airborne, several deliver parting flashes.

“Look!” fantasizes Emily. “They’re saying thank you for letting them go.”

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.