I remember warm summer nights on my grandparents’ farm in Iowa chasing fireflies. The dark would creep up from the pasture behind the barn and soon cloak the old outbuildings and the orchard. The silos would disappear into twilight and the corn crib would slowly became a dark shadow. The yard light on the no-longer active windmill would flick on and chase some of the darkness away, but the shadows under the full weeping willow stayed dark and deep.
Little dappled lights would start flickering in that shadowed world under the willow tree, looking like little fey lanterns. Soon, answering lights would appear near the flower beds filled with lilies and tulips. The lights would wink on and off in a fascinating rhythm and pattern. My sister's nose would press against the big glass window in the kitchen that looked out onto the gravel drive and the flower beds. I would look out the screen door toward the numinous dark and blinking lights under the willow. We’d count the flashing bugs and do our own pestering of the adults until they gave in.
Grandma would go into the landing to the basement and get an old canning jar with the screw on lid. This jar had been used for catching fireflies for many years, so the lid was already punctured at the top to let the air in. Whether my mother and her sisters and brother had used this same jar, I don’t know; but I know that my sister and I definitely had, for as long as I could remember.
Heather and I would run out into the dark, unafraid, to capture the little flying lights. We’d race, hands outstretched, around the old gray farmhouse, giggling and doing our best not to hurt the bugs as we caught them. Around the house, between the old chicken coop and the garage, through the apple tree orchard we’d go, racing toward the dancing fairy lights. We’d play tag under the weeping willow with them, for just as we’d get close to grasping the lightning bugs in our hands they’d blink off and we’d lose them in the dim.
When we did succeed in cupping our little hands around a flying flasher, we’d squeal with glee and giggle as we’d run to deposit our trophy in the old Mason jar. As there were two of us, the jar would soon be filled with ten to fifteen lightning bugs, and we’d marvel at the light show captured under slightly blue glass. I always wanted to carry our treasure up the stairs to our room. I imagined that I’d set the fairy jar on the old trestle-type sewing machine that served as a night table between the twin beds. That way, all night long, if we woke up, we’d see the little lights blink on and off.
But mom and Grandma (as well as dad and Grandpa) were against that idea. So we just watched them in their little jar as they flashed their love messages into the dark. Eventually we’d unscrew the jar and let the fairy lights fly away, back to their world under the weeping willow and among the lilies and tulips in the flower beds.
I was reminded of all this by a post on facebook by my friend Laura. She commented that her son loved chasing fireflies, and how he usually didn’t capture them—how instead he’d “smush” them. Well, he’s a boy, and he probably doesn’t think of the fireflies like little fairies… but her post reminded me of a time I miss. It was a time of the innocence of youth and the joys of a warm summer night with nothing to think about except…chasing fireflies.