Running through Central Park tonight I hit the wall of a different kind. The one that smacks you in the head with a childhood memory that had been lost for 30-plus years. You see, catching lightning bugs was a traditional part of our summer evenings on Long Island in the 1960s. We loved the way they seemed to dart around knowing we were after them — not to hurt them — but rather to cherish their magical powers up close — just for a few minutes in a jar while they lit up our nights.
I moved to Southern California in 1985. I never thought about those bugs once I left home. But now I realize how many summers I’ve missed the opportunity to dance with and chase these elusive sparks. My run through the park stopped short tonight when a virtual battalion of these little treasures lit up the lush green path. Flooding my head with really lovely memories of those carefree days I got a bit choked up, a little misty, and then I wept.
I had to find out why these special creatures don’t live – and light – on the West Coast. Well scientists say they love warm, humid climates, an in the U.S., almost no species of fireflies is found west of Kansas. I also learned:
a) they are nocturnal, the reason they light up is to attract a mate, and they are part of the beetle family
b) the females have brighter and bigger lights (Too obvious, don’t go there.)
c) their enzyme luciferin — that allows them to glow — generates light, but not heat.
From my favorite poet:
Fireflies in the Garden
Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.