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Fireflies

Officially, summer begins on the summer solstice, June 21.

In actuality, as any school-child or teacher can tell you, summer begins on the day that his or her own school lets out for summer vacation.  This year, summer begins on June 23, at least for me.  However, it's doing a very nice warm-up act already.

Last night, I was dumbfounded by the fireflies in my yard.

I grew up with fireflies--and crickets, and song-birds, and trees.  I remember that when I was perhaps eleven years old, I read a Ripley's Believe it or Not anecdote about a doctor who was able to perform a surgery, once, by the light of a jar of fireflies.  As a kid, that seemed utterly plausible to me.  I remember that many, many nights in my childhood, my brother and I would roam the yard, with jars in hand, catching fireflies.  We caught a lot--though never enough to light a surgery, I must admit.

But even in the years I lived in Vermont, as an adult, the fireflies seemed to have faded away.  There never seemed to be very many, anywhere I lived--certainly not in the small city where I've lived for the past eighteen years.

Until this summer.  Living here, in this new house that reminds me so much of my childhood, I've noticed the fireflies are back.  Last night, around bed-time, checking to see that the front door was locked, I noticed them twinkling in the grass and at the edge of the woods, and so I left the door ajar and went out onto the lawn to just sit for a few moments.

There were no stars overhead, because the night was one of those humid, murky ones where you just about pray for a thunderstorm.  Instead, the stars were all out on the grass.

As I sat and I watched them, I thought of references in Aradia to the magic of the firefly.  What if all the fireflies were fairies?  What if, as was once believed of moths, they were the souls of the dead, not yet gone?  It seemed almost believable.

I heard mysterious rustling from the edge of the woods.  I know my new neighborhood has a bear family living in it, and they've often been spotted crossing the yards hereabouts.  (It was probably a bear cub running across ours that lured our dog out into the road, and into his near-fatal accident last fall.)  And yet, I could not be afraid.  I thought instead of the anecdote Mike Novack tells, of a friend of his who once, out in early spring inspecting brush piles in his woods, turned over the top of one to discover a bear sow and two cubs.  Mike says he backed away, letting the brush settle back into place, saying quietly and politely, "Excuse me, Madam!  I am so sorry to have disturbed you."

And I thought of the story of my own friend, Kirk White, out meditating in his own back yard in Vermont, when he felt something small and warm climb into his lap.  When he half-opened his eyes and glanced down, he saw that he had made a new friend: a young skunk.

He continued to meditate, perhaps sitting even more quietly, until the skunk decided it was time to go.

Sometimes, the natural world seems so much like home that it is impossible to feel like a stranger in it.  Sometimes, I get to feel like a child again, in the best possible way: that I am eleven years old again, barefoot and in my pajamas, filling a jar with they mystery of fireflies.

Last night was such a night.

This summer, I hope for many such nights, and many such days.  There is so much busy-ness that can absorb an adult mind.  May I not be so much caught up in travel, planning, writing, correspondence, that I forget to take a few hours every day to look up at leaves from below, to watch ants traveling through the jungle of the grass, or to watch a hawk making lazy circles overhead.

So mote it be.


Image of fireflies from Wikimedia Commons: found at "Signs of Summer" at Jonski Blogski

Comments

Crys said…
I just started seeing fireflies myself the other night. I felt the same way although I didn't have time yet to go chase after them. I'm excited about running outside with my son at dusk and trying to capture a jar full of lights.

There's always something wonderful about that time of night in summer.
Yewtree said…
When I was in Corfu a couple of years ago, there were fireflies in the meadow behind our apartment every night - it was beautiful.

There aren't any fireflies in England but we do have glow-worms.
I live in the Missouri Ozarks and I love the fireflies, and I too have always thought they were fairies. I have noticed that around here that they are not as numerous as they were when I was a kid growing up here in the sticks. They say it is because of all the pesticides and I believe that may well be....anyhoo, love your post and yes they are so very magical!
Rick Loftus, M.D. said…
Cat, thanks for this. I love fireflies and in California we don't have them, just one species of glowworm. I'm happy to hear they're still abundant in some places--no one has successfully raised them in captivity....
Erik said…
Isn't a lovely night?
And so alive
With fireflies
Providing us their holy light


- The Decemberists

We do have fireflies here in the Carolinas, although I must also sadly report that they are much less common than they were when I was a kid.
Anonymous said…
I'm puzzled by this. Pagans celebrate the beginning of summer around 1 May with many traditional ceremonies (Beltane). Mid-summer day (Mid=middle) is 24 June and the summer solstice marks the longest day, after which the days shorten.

Lammastide - Lughnasadh, around 1 August marks the beginning of autumn (fall. I won't go through the quarter and cross quarter days as all pagans know them but the beginning of winter is 1 November, the start of the Celtic new year. The Winter solstice marks the mid-point of winter after which the days lengthen again.

Since I've become familiar with the pagan / traditional festivals I've found that I'm more in tune with the seasons and understand what is happening.

You've missed so much - summer started weeks ago!

Good wishes,
Hi, all,
Thanks for commenting--and for bearing with my delay in responding. This is such a busy time of year in a classroom.

I enjoyed hearing others' memories of fireflies, and for those who don't have any at all... you have my sympathy! Again last night, when I could not sleep, I went outside and looked up to see stars overhead, and a few more, insistently twinkling, out on the lawn.

To Anonymous: Yes, it's interesting how much more in tune with the wheel of the year one becomes through celebrating it, isn't it?

Your puzzlement is natural enough. It turns out that there is not one sacred calendar which modern Pagans recognize, but several. The modern interpretations of the Celtic year emphasize the Samhain/Beltane split between winter and summer, as you note. Other calendars call the summer solstice "Midsummer," or even "Litha," though that seems to be a fairly modern convention, and there is little evidence that Celtic peoples paid attention to that day at all. And you correctly note that there are some people who consider August 1, Lammas or Lughnassad, as the start of autumn, though others recognize it as simply the First Fruits, and look to the equinox to mark the beginning of fall.

Basically, the calendars do not match. Our ancestors lived at various latitudes, in various climates, and with various marks in the ritual year. Some paid more attention to the solar year's solstices and equinoxes, and others to the cross quarters... and still others (like the ancient Greeks) did not really observe a ritual calendar in sync with the year at all, while others (like the ancient Egyptians) recognized cycles that had little to do, directly, with the solar year--like the flooding of the Nile, for instance.

In this case, I was speaking of the beginning of summer in terms both of the secular calendar and the teacher's; I am a public school teacher, and in addition to the rhythms of the earth, the sun, and the moon, my life is strongly influenced by the annual inundation and recession of a flood of 9th graders in my classroom. Actually, summer begins for me not at the solstice, but on the end of my last day of teaching for this school year.

We're a confusing and polyglot community, we Pagans. In time, most of us find the rhythms that are correct for the place and circumstances in which we live out our own, modern Pagan cycles.

Blessed be.
sta┼Ťa said…
It may be Midsummer in terms of the number of hours of daylight, but in terms of heat -- and depending on where you live -- Summer Solstice / Litha can really feel like the start of summer!

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