Fireflies and Starry Skies

The 4th of July brings us the stars and stripes and the sparkle of fireworks, evoking (among other things) America’s victory over Britain and “the rockets red glare.” But long after the last brilliant explosions have subsided, another kind of “fireworks” continues. These little bursts of light are significantly quieter — silent, in fact — but they can be just as impressive. I’m talking, of course, about the fireflies.

Fireflies, or lightning bugs, as they’re often called, perform their phosphorescent mating dance every year around this time. They make their appearance just as darkness falls and the night sky begins to light up with stars. It’s quite a sight, visible anywhere there are trees or open ground, but for Brattleboro, the cornfield down by the ski jump on Cedar Street is one particularly good spot to observe them. Or, for that matter, your own backyard.

Last night, as the fire in our chiminea gently subsided into coals, hundreds of fireflies began to swoop and dive, appearing one after another out of the grass and arcing up into the trees. Few at first, their numbers increased as the evening wore on, until it seemed as though they were everywhere, making a veritable festival of light.

It is fairly mesmerizing to watch fireflies. The randomness of the show — like the dance of flames in a campfire — brings on a trance of sorts, as you watch them light up here, there, everywhere.

Meanwhile, stars wink into view as the sky steadily darkens. First one, then another, then thousands, then “billions and billions” of them, covering the sky from horizon to horizon. The Milky Way, of which we Earthlings are a part, spirals across the sky, and suddenly, there you are, contemplating the cosmos. Meanwhile, the fireflies continue their dazzling display on the green earth below.

If the 4th of July ushers in high summer, fireflies are the proof in the pudding that the warm season really is here. As for the stars, they’re around every night regardless of season, but only in the summertime can you enjoy both natural wonders at the same time.

For poetic naturalists and natural poets, it’s a magical time, beautiful but fleeting. Enjoy it now, for like any midsummer night’s dream, it’s glamor won’t last long.

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