Thursday, June 22, 2017

Fewer Fireflies?

On my trip to Mepkin Abbey, I heard a local (South Carolina local) show that had 2 biologists and a writer talking about changes that they've noticed with a variety of changes, from global warming to coastal erosion to the incessant development that encroaches on it all.  They talked about noticing fewer fireflies.  One of the biologists talked about his sorrow that his grandchildren aren't likely to run around chasing fireflies because there are so few of them.

I thought about what would be one of my last visits to my parents' house in Northern Virginia, before they moved to Williamsburg.  I looked out the back window into the dark night beyond and saw what looked like a sea of twinkling stars--but it was fireflies.  That summer, we wouldn't have had to work hard to capture a jar of them, but I was happy to sit on the deck and watch the show.

I think about my own childhood, back to the days before widespread air conditioning where we'd spend the evening hours on my grandparent's front porch.  We'd shell beans for the next day.  I'd ask my elders about life when they were my age, and they'd tell me.  As the world got dark, I'd collect fireflies in old Mason jars.  I get weepy just thinking about corn picked from my grandparent's garden and served almost immediately, with butter and salt.  I would pay good money if I could find tomatoes that taste like the ones they grew so effortlessly.

Here's a poem that I wrote years ago when we first moved here back in 1998; it's an example of how I transformed homesick yearning into art.  It appeared in the Palo Alto Review.

Setting Free the Fireflies

The apartment smells like my grandmother’s
house in the summer,
a childhood time before air conditioners
ruled the season.
Gentle breezes,
smelling of mowed lawns
and ripening tomatoes,
lapped their way around our beds.
The nights glowed
with that candle-like quality
which comes from distant street lights
beaming through window blinds
left open to the breeze.
Long after the yeasty smells
of my grandmother’s early morning baking
my parents crept into the bedroom
where I slept on sheets
made scratchy
from clothesline drying.
They took my jar
of carefully caught fireflies
and set my natural nightlight

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