Lightning Bugs

It was early in the evening of June 5th. I’m going to have mark it on my calendar so I don’t forget. I had just spent the day working in the yard and doing everything possible to make it presentable for another week. The truth is, no matter how much you mow or how many weeds you pull you inevitably have seven days at most before the process will need to be repeated.

As I slowly pushed the lawn mower back into the garage residual grass clippings began to fall from the chassis but by that point I was too lazy to even think about sweeping them up. I was much too tired and they would have to wait til morning. And yet the smell of sweat and gas that permeated my senses gave me a great feeling of accomplishment.

I grabbed a beer out of the fridge and walked out on to the patio for some much-needed rest and to chill out as twilight settled in. I sat down at the table to enjoy the warm breeze and to admire my landscaping work. That’s when I saw them for the first time this year.

Lightning bugs.

I think the correct term for them is Photuris lucicrescens. Some others may use the word firefly in their vernacular. But we here in the Northeast portion of the country refer to them as lightning bugs. A bug that even the person with the most severe form of insectophobia will usually find attractive. Sure, the butterfly is beautiful and the lady bug is cool but as far as I’m concerned, nothing compares to the majesty of the lightning bug and I’ll be happy to tell you why.

There are certain things in life that remind you of different seasons of the year. We all know that when leaves begin to fall autumn is here. And when flowers begin to spring up from their deep sleep we know that spring has indeed sprung. But when we see the first lightning bug of the year it’s magical. It’s like welcoming home an old friend. One who’s been gone for months and now suddenly comes back with word that summer is finally here.

Long before I became experienced in the art of the lawn mow, my early summer evenings were spent catching these wonderful illuminating creatures. Nothing could compare to a day of swimming with friends in the pool and then seeing how many we could catch as the day drew to a close.

Running barefoot through dark back yards wearing shorts and a tank top without a single care in the world except for the task at hand was pure freedom. And there was always a feeling of wonder as you caught one of these little critters and then watched it slowly climb to the highest part of your finger, spread it’s wings and fly away.

Sometimes I’d capture them and put them in an old mayonnaise jar with holes poked in the lid. I’d fill the jar with long blades of grass to contain my treasures. I liked to think this was God’s intended way of making a lantern. Of course, it wouldn’t be long before the lights in the jar would go out as the lightning bugs would begin to succumb to the lack of air and I’d have to release them on my Mother’s demands.

The most fun of all though was during what I always called the “final hour”. This was usually around 9PM and right before my parents would call me in for the evening.

You’d still notice the firestorm of lights in the yard but now there was one that always seemed to burn bigger and brighter. It was the grand daddy of lightning bugs making an appearance.  At least, Grand Daddy is what I called him.

Grand Daddy was the baddest bug of all and of course, he was also the one that was almost impossible to catch. Every time you’d get close enough he’d fly just out of reach of your grasp. It was as if he knew the measurement of his assailant. I’m sure he was always thinking to himself: “Ok, this kid is four feet eight inches tall – I’ll hover six feet five inches off the ground”. But if you were lucky enough to capture a Grand Daddy when he let down his guard, you were always the winner of the evening’s festivities. It was childhood summer at it’s finest.

I think I had just finished my beer when the firestorm of lights began. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Grand Daddy flying nearby and I tried to make a pass to get him. Still smart as ever, he calculated the precise distance for my five feet eight inch frame and was just out of my reach.

I sat back down in my chair and smiled as I thought about how care free and fun those nights were and how my own daughter loves chasing the lightning bugs now.  I still try to never miss an opportunity to chase them with her.

I often wonder how there could possibly be any interest in watching television at night during this time of year.

Especially when there literally is so much entertainment right in our own backyards.

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