Fireflies and Tennis Balls

It was wonderfully warm last night, so me and the dogs went outside. About 9 p.m. the sky was a dark blue, almost black. Barely enough light for tossing tennis balls in the yard. I sat on a bench and watched them play, then I watched a lone firefly appear on a bush.

Wow! First one this summer. There weren’t a lot of them the previous summer, at least not here in middle Illinois. When I was a kid in northern Illinois … when I called them lightning bugs … they were in such profusion you’d scoop them up in your hand, have contests with friends on how many you could catch. My mom said she used to squeeze the tails off them when she was young, smear the glow on her finger like a ring. She demonstrated. I couldn’t do that. I didn’t want to kill them, just catch and release, you know.

When I finished my stints as a news reporter for a couple of papers, I went to work for TSR. We lived in Burlington, Wisconsin. Well … that was our address, Burlington, but we lived on a county road that was closer to the little dinkburg of Twin Lakes (which had a marvelous Ben Franklin store and a Chinese restaurant). There was a dairy farm across from our house. Ah, smell that dairy air! And a massive cornfield behind us, that was once in a while planted in soybeans.

At night I would go out on the backyard deck with my dogs, stand against the railing, and watch the fireflies. There were thousands upon thousands upon thousands, hovering like a glimmering blanket above the knee-high corn. Being out in the sticks, no light pollution, the stars also put on a magical display.

Combine the stars and the fireflies–one starting where the other left off–and it was truly incredible. Nature’s special effects. Every night of every summer I lived there, I would stand out on the deck to watch it. I liken it to my friend Craig Martelle in Alaska going outside to watch his Northern Lights.

Heaven’s fireworks.

One summer we had a group of friends from Arizona stop by to play Dawn Patrol. In a break between games, I went out on the deck to watch the show. I told the gang I’d be back in a few minutes, that they could set up the next game.

But they joined me. All of them.

We just stood there and watched and watched and watched. One of the guys hugged me, and said “best day ever.” He lived in a big city and with all its lights didn’t get to see something like that.

We all stood there for a long while.

Last night, I stayed out until the blue disappeared from the sky and it was too dark to toss tennis balls. I counted seven fireflies before I retreated with the dogs into the house.

On that county road between Burlington and Twin Lakes … it would have been impossible to tally them.

I read an article in USA Today about diminishing fireflies, possible extinction. Here is the link.

You Might Also Like

Back to top