The lonely firefly
I’m over it now, but there was a time this past summer — one of the mildest summers of memory — when I was afraid to go outside. All because of Todd, a young, compassionate horticulturist.
He doesn’t believe in spraying for mosquitoes for fear of harming other insects. Instead, he slathers himself in insect repellent to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
My dog Bucky and I couldn’t remember to slather ourselves, so every time we settled into our peaceful backyard to read, we were attacked by swarms of mean-spirited mosquitoes. Swarms akin to Old Testament plagues. Bucky and I ran for the house to the sound of tiny snickering behind us.
I do not believe — nor have I ever believed — in live pigeon shoots. For a while I likened mass mosquito killing to that. And yet, after being a captive in my own home for weeks, one day I snapped and ran outside, firing Off! like Sylvester Stallone in an adventure movie.
Then came the long, lovely autumn — a novelty to Oklahoma. One evening in late October, Bucky and I were sitting on the front porch praising God for the sumptuous Oklahoma sunsets and twilights, when we spotted one lone firefly.
All across my front yard, he frantically flashed his bright abdomen.
“Oh, no, honey,” I said. “You’re looking for love in the wrong season.”
Was this my fault? Had I murdered all the lady fireflies with my attack of insect repellant?
“Firefly” is a rather sophisticated word for me. I grew up calling them “lightning bugs.” As small children, my cousins and I chased them around my grandmother’s front yard at dusk. When we caught them, we pinched off their lights and put them on our fingers as rings.
We were the same murderous children who sat under a great weeping willow tree one day using our plastic scissors to cut earthworms into tiny pieces so the baby birds could eat them more easily. What a smelly pile of uneaten worms that turned out to be.
I don’t care for mosquitoes or roaches, but I’m fond of fireflies. Actually, a firefly isn’t a fly but a beetle blessed with bioluminescence.
Bioluminescence comes from the Greek words for “living light.” Many sea animals and some fungi and bacteria possess this quality. Phytoplankton can transform ocean water into a sea of stars. A friend told me of seeing a young couple swimming and splashing one another at night in a luminescent sea of neon blue. I can think of no more romantic image.
Colors are magical. I read about a species of bird whose legs change color during the mating season. How helpful that characteristic would be for humans. It would bring such clarity to our world.
The closest we may come is a new fabric for clothes that changes color with our moods or flashes in sync with music. I read about that in the “Old Farmer’s Almanac.”
As the nights got longer and colder, I discovered that if I tucked Veronica, my plump white cat, under the covers — between the flannel sheets — she would sleep happily through the night, generating heat like a small potbellied stove. I could burrow into the snug bed to read the almanac, learning fascinating things:
- The best time to mend a fence is when the moon is in Capricorn.
- Scorpios should eat lots of beets.
- Half of the moon and two-thirds of our body weight are comprised of oxygen.
- Boston is the center of the universe for the almanac. Sun and moon rise and set times, high tides, length of days and the moon’s astronomical place are calculated from Boston.
- The dark spots on the moon are called mares or seas. They are named for weather, such as the Ocean of Storms, or for emotion, such as the Sea of Tranquility.
- Basil repels mosquitoes.
By the time spring is here and I’ve completed my hibernation, I’ll crawl out of bed and be ready for social interaction.
“Hi,” my friends will say after the long winter. “How are you? What do you know?”
Having read the “Old Farmer’s Almanac” from cover to cover, I’ll know lots.
When summer comes, I will plant a field of basil in my backyard and retire the insect repellant. Romance will once again reign among the fireflies.