Last night we did something magical. Something I’d heard of for about seven or more years. Something I’d tried to go to more than once. Finally, the invitation landed into my in-box when all the stars were aligned. And this was a night for stars.
Perhaps I’m just plain silly for even attempting to share what we witnessed last night. Repeatedly, our hosts said to us--before we saw a rare gathering of firefly species deliver a light show like none other—that words could not capture the magic our eyes would greedily consume. The owner of approximately 250 acres of wild pastured and forested land said it again, and this time, witnessing the spectacle, we adopted the refrain: "Words could not describe."
And yet, a writer tries. That’s what we writers do. Vainly. On the hour-long, quiet and vacuous-black night ride home, my car rounding curves of multiple, meandering country roads--the ever-present threat of getting lost, despite our GPS--my companion said: "There are no words that can encapsulate nature’s spectacle. Not the one we saw."
Red Fern is the name of property owned by the parents of friends. The parents are now my friends. At least I'll call them that. I met them once before at a New Year's Eve party. The owners I saw last night, this time on their land, sitting by a large creek around a campfire complete with roasted vegetables, burgers, dogs and obligatory marshmallows, were youthful retirees with warm, welcoming energy. Hosting city folks to their country stead was old hat. As I understand it, they had lived their 30 years and chanced seeing the rare fireflies only after inhabiting their wooded land for five years. Their lightening bugs, as we call them in popular culture, have only been found in only four other places in the US. And this was the largest gathering of them. I cannot begin to describe those creatures that come out for a few days in early May because I did not see them though I've been invited numerous times to camp out and witness their spectacle.
What we saw last night was "down the road a piece," as country vernacular would say. We drove our cars, caravan-style several miles past my friends' place, turned around where we could safely do so and then parked all wheels on the shoulder of a large field and got out. Never have I seen bugs create such a large, electric-like uber luminous flashes of light. Moving light, buzzing with juiced-up energy, lit up the fields and trees. One type were dubbed "the Christmas tree lights." Scattered as if hung thoughtfully on the tall, stately deciduous trees that guarded the fields' edges, they blinked like lights on ol' tannenbaum. With more charge than any man-made light I'd ever seen.
My friends said we were probably seeing a dozen different species. Some zoomed overhead like miniature spaceships with a continuous stream of light, never blinking. Others blinked in sync four times...pause...blink-blink-blink-blink. Pause. Another species, our hosts had seen at the edge of their property would blink in symphony and then stop, all at once, all on cue. And, I cannot remember the description of the fireflies that have already toured my friends' property earlier this month. And that's just it. They are gone. Until next May. And the ones we saw last night? They'll be gone any day.
Quietly, as we watched something sacred, the energy of it enveloping our hearts, our bodies. We whispered, wondering if the passersby who lived in the area even noticed the phenomena. Had it become so commonplace that they took it for granted--lost in their thoughts or focused only upon rapidly reaching their destination--?
These were fields on fire. Maybe what artist Bruce Munroe attempted to emulate. It was a lot like the lawn beneath Cheekwood Mansion last summer, a fellow onlooker agreed.
"I-I...I don't know how to describe it," I recall our host said to us, while it was still daylight and we were roasting the last of the marshmallows.
"I do!" piped his 12-year-old grandson....
"They're lightening bugs on steroids!"
Yep. Everyone agreed. And, I'd add about the neighboring batches we saw last night:
Fields on fire with light.
*My humble iPhoto, blurred by emerging twilight, is of my friends' property. An iPhone, good as it is, could not capture the spectacle of last night's light show.