Fireflies

Photo by Art Farmer (Evansville, Ill.), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (Firefly 0877)

Photo by Art Farmer (Evansville, Ill.), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (Firefly 0877)

At this time of year, twilight is marked by tiny flickers of light. Over the ivy, fairy lights wink in and out as the fireflies dance in their annual revelry.

I remember hearing years ago that by the early ’60s DDT had all but wiped out the firefly population, but then, after it was banned, they began coming back. So I also see these dancing lights as beacons of hope. Hope that humankind can change its ways and respect the natural world. Hope that we humans can appreciate the beauty of earth enough to change our foolish ways.

If you manage to glimpse a firefly sans fire, unlit, in the prosaic light of day, to the untutored eye it looks just like any “bug”: a dull-colored shell, six little legs, “buggy” eyes, and antenae. Nothing magical there. To the casual human onlooker, just another insect, a “bug,” a word that evokes for your average human reactions of disgust, dismissal, or downright hostility. Think of ads for insect repellents or poisons, the most well-known of which proudly boasts the slogan “kills bugs dead.” What does this say about our relation with an entire category of creatures with whom we share the earth? Not to sound too sanctimonious here: I have killed my share of houseflies and mosquitoes and I’m the loudest and shrillest of screamers if I catch sight of a roach. But what about the good bugs? The praying mantis, the lady bug, the bee, creatures who benefit us and—in the bees’ case—without whom life here on earth would be all but impossible.

Why do we persist in manufacturing poisons that kill good bugs along with those that carry disease? Poisons that can kill humans as well. Just a few weeks ago, I glimpsed a headline on the Internet where 22 children in India had died as a result of eating a school lunch that had been contaminated with pesticide. When will we learn?

The first step, I believe, is to look at the natural world and observe. To return to the firefly, when I went in search of images for this blog post, I came across several that showed a beauty I hadn’t even seen: hidden beneath the dull, dun-colored carapace is a beautiful brilliant bright orange head and upper body. The brilliant orange almost seems like a signal, telling those who take the trouble to observe that “hey, something special and bright is going on here.” Captured in the midst of flight, wings extended, the firefly is more beautiful yet—and then there are the magic “fairy lights,’ lit at twilight for all to see.

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