Fireflies

Great Smoky Mountain fiireflies photo- recreation.gov

We are showered every day with gifts, but they are not meant for us to keep. Their life is in their movement, the inhale and the exhale of our shared breath. Our work and our joy is to pass along the gift and to trust that what we put out into the universe will always come back.

—-Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Summer is a magical time here in East Tennessee. The giant magnolia trees are full of waxy white flowers that smell like lemons. The mama turkeys parade around the yard with their babies. Occasionally we get to see fawns who are more curious about us than the mama deer think is prudent. But the real magic happens in the evening around dusk when the fireflies start to come out and the meadows and trees around the house light up with these amazing and gentle bugs. Fireflies are easy to catch and every child in these parts delights in running after the sparkling bugs to capture and put them in a mason jar with air holes punched in the lid. It is an annual right and part of the long lazy evenings of summer. These are bugs everyone can love.

About an hour away in the Great Smoky Mountains, there is a one area that has a special type of fireflies that don’t just flash randomly like in my woods but instead has a way of synchronizing their display to attract potential mates.  These enclaves of fireflies have been a big attraction the last decade or so and definitely a bucket list experience.  I was always very happy with the fireflies around my house so I never felt the need to venture to the mountains. But this year, my friend Lynn managed to get a coveted parking slot in the lottery and invited several of us hiking friends to join her.  We packed a picnic supper for the long wait until dark and headed on the curvy roads to the Elkmont campground not far from the main visitor’s center.

Elkmont was once an enclave of summer homes before the national park was formed.  The tenants retained lifetime rights to the cottages but the last few decades the empty cottages fell in disrepair. Currently, a few are being restored as part of the history of the park.  We picnicked on one of the front porches before heading down the trail with our chairs to wait for it to be pitch-dark. There were several hundred people along the near-by trails eagerly awaiting the bugs to show up.  I personally found it wonderful and remarkable to see so many people so excited about bugs—it warmed my heart. I loved the chance to be in the deep dark woods, wandering around like nature’s Halloween party collecting bugs rather than candy. There was an air of happy anticipation for the show.

Well, the show was not its best that night.  The weather had just been a bit too cool for the fireflies liking. We did see a few.  Blink, Blink, Blink—-dark.  Blink, Blink, Blink—dark. All the male fireflies went dark at the same time.  But I was there, I got to see some of it and I was in the ancient woods loving nature with other wonderful nature-loving people.  Maybe next year I can see the full display but meanwhile I had a delightful evening. I’ve been enjoying my fireflies even more and I even have a bat the comes around to enjoy the fading light.

The Brood X cicadas have faded now and the land is quiet again.  Caroline spent all of June enjoying these very sassy bugs.  As I would walk along the road by the meadow, cicadas would fly in front of me, buzzing and letting me know I was disturbing them. Their gossamer wings made it feel like little fairies flying up around, very ethereal and surreal. 

Caroline collected their beautiful golden wings and laminated thousands of them—preserving them for art projects. She is sad she has to wait another 17 years for Brood X to come back.  Her friend Maddie has turned these wings in earrings; art and nature, nature and art—they can’t be separated.  

Usually, bugs are seen as pests and we have many of those here on the farm—ticks, flies, mosquitos, stinkbugs, invasive aphids. But sometimes bugs can be friends. Now if I could just feel the same way about the rat snake who came into the basement and has taken up residence in the bushes.

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