This is an especially good time of year in our part of Indiana for fireflies. I have seen them out my bedroom window at night, hovering and flickering over the grass. We don’t have fireflies in the West where I grew up, so the first time I saw them, at least that I remember, was during the month my family spent living near Houston Texas when I was a young child. It is one of the few memories I have of that period, but I have often recalled an evening walk with my family over a bridge and through some trees and the magic of the glowing creatures floating about in the darkness.
It is the poignancy of that memory that led me to put aside my usual vigilance about early bedtimes for my boys and sanction a late evening firefly walk a few nights ago. The day had been one of those stormy Midwestern days, and we weren’t sure all day if we would be able to have our walk at all, but just around twilight there was an intermission. Jeff and I brushed the boys teeth and put them in the stroller to walk down to the forest path just south of our apartments. The sky was grey and the thunder rumbled distant warnings to walk faster.
When we reached the woods, however, we had slowed and quieted enough to see some baby rabbits in the low grass before they darted for cover. The fireflies were not so bashful. They twinkled in the dark spaces between the trees, and floated lazily about us, unconcerned at our watchful presence. My oldest son was full of awe and excited phrases, and my youngest was quietly observant; and somehow, even without the misty sheen of childhood to coat the moment for me, it was magical.
I felt a strong sense of disappointment that I had not thought to bring a jar. It would have been so easy just to reach out and catch one of the tiny blinking bugs and bring it home to keep. As it was, I could only carry away the memory, and it was a short one. We were merely in the trees for a brief interval before we began to feel raindrops and the tall trees began to sway dramatically in the breeze of the oncoming storm. We rushed home.
The time we spent in the woods was a matter of minutes, but tonight I think that the past two years, this stage in my life, has been, in many ways, equally brief. Like our firefly walk to the woods, it has had its dark clouds and cold breezes, but there have also been extraordinary moments, little flickers of light.
There is a pit in my stomach, an anticipation of the coming storm and the need to hurry on. In less than two weeks we will be starting a new walk. We will be leaving behind some extraordinary and ordinary things. There is no jar that can carry them away with us. My son has been filling his pockets with his favorite rocks from our playground for the past few weeks, almost like he could just take the playground, one rock at a time, to Chicago with him. But, there are a lot of rocks out there.
Tonight as I was taking out the trash I saw the fireflies in the bushes and the low weeds by the fence. I thought of how I could go back inside, and get something to catch one in and keep. But then, something inside me quietly whispered that fireflies do not live long in glass jars. Eventually their light would dwindle and diminish.
However, I do know from experience that they will live for a very long time in my memory.