Fireflies in the field

My daughters bounced around the yard, arms flailing. At 11 and 8, their forms silhouetted in the late evening seemed even younger. Their childish giggles and laughter as they held plastic pint ice cream containers with holes poked through the lids. They were searching for and catching fireflies.

I sat at the picnic table in my yard. Somewhere in the neighborhood, someone was having a fire. Outside was comfortable, a little on the warm side, a late spring night. They returned with a half dozen or so in the containers. They placed them on the picnic table and we watched them light up for a while. Then they both removed the lid and let them go free with the same joy as they had to capture them in the first place.

The late spring hits my right in the nostalgia. When the tails of lightning bugs sprinkle yellow sparks across the fields, I mark this time like it was a birthday. My own birthday is just a date penciled in on a calendar. But this is time that I feel connected to both the past and the promise of the future.

When I was in my teens my parents bought a trailer at a campground. We’d head up in the spring, late April to start preparing for the season. Memorial Day was the big weekend when the campground was packed with family campers. There was a field with swings and a tire and not much else. But at some point during a weekend, a group of us, boys and girls varying in age, would lie on our back in the grass and look up at the stars. All of us, mostly strangers, would talk and share pieces of our life under the stars and the blinking lights of the fireflies. We’d become friends then, sometimes more.

I grew up in Philadelphia in a red brick row home not far from the center of the city. From my third floor bedroom, I could see the bank lights of PSFS glowing red in the city night. There was a street light right outside my window so bright that I could read from it.

Those fireflies that still mesmerize me form ever-changing clusters of stars, asterisms, or constellations. I didn’t know much about the night sky. I didn’t know the most visible cluster that my eyes are drawn to, the big dipper, is known as an asterism. The constellation it’s a part of is Ursa Major – the great she-bear. It was hard not to feel connected to something bigger, to the great wide past when you stare at the sky. These were viewed by everyone who came before you and while our world shifts and evolves and seems to lend itself to chaos. There they are above us reaching a mighty paw to let us know that everything is going to be okay.

It’s kind of form of time travel – the fireflies, the smell of the fire – it takes me back 30 years and I’m kissing Alison Flanagan underneath the big dipper after petting a lightning bug in her hand. It flew away and she startled and the skies were clear and we kissed and it was the only thing that made sense.