The Kitchen Sink: Fireflies

“Winston and Fireflies”

It’s June and the fireflies have reappeared. With their return come so many memories from my youth and also one from the not so distant past.

Most of us have had some experience catching fireflies. My first memories of fireflies are those of hot, humid summer evenings at my grandparents’ house in Iowa. My grandmother found a canning jar or a mayonnaise jar. It didn’t matter. Either would do.  She prepared it with a screw on lid that we poked holes in.  We would pull up a few strands of grass to put in the bottom of the jar.

Then it was time to wait.  Waiting for dusk. Darkness descending. A first yellow flash low in a bush. Then another flicker. Suddenly the yard was alive with neon dots and dashes. We ran from one flash to another. Jar in one hand, lid in the other. Scooping up that flashing bug and successfully trapping it in the jar. With luck, one could have a small cache of fireflies in the jar rapidly flashing their coded alerts. Then it was pure entertainment to sit on the porch, count how many we had captured, and watch them flash for us. These little bugs were entertaining and mesmerizing. Eventually we released the little flashers and moved on to other entertainment. The next night we would return to catch them again.

I hadn’t thought much about fireflies since my youth until recently when their reappearance brought back another memory.

Shortly after we built our home on the edge Arkansas Ozarks, I spent a weekend at the house alone. It was time to get the new house ready for moving in. Measuring windows for window treatments, determining where furniture would fit, I was busy throughout the day. I’d brought our young golden retriever, Winston, along for company. As a year-old pup, he was still learning about many new things. He loved the woods behind the house and explored during the day.

That first night, he must have sensed my uneasiness at being alone in the house for the first time.  The master bedroom patio door had no covering yet, but it didn’t matter. There was nothing but woods behind us. The night was inky black lit only by a partial moon and twinkling stars. The darkness filled the bedroom, and I’d just crawled into bed when Winston let out a low growl. He was crouched low looking out the patio door. With nothing between him and the outdoors but the deck and the patio door, he had a full view of the back yard and the woods. With as much courage as I could muster. I asked, “What’s wrong, fella? What do you see?”

His growling continued. A long, low warning rumble. Something was out there.

Gathering myself and taking a deep breath, I hunkered down onto my hands and knees and crawled over next to him. Was it a coyote? Was it a person?

The two of us scanned the yard, the woods, the skyline. Side by side. On all fours. Crouching low.

“What is it, Win? What do you see?” I whispered.

He continued growling. I scanned the area. Nothing.

But Winston’s growling didn’t stop. He turned to me and then looked back outside as if to say, “Don’t you see it?” He definitely wanted me to know there was something out there.

Then I did see it.
The flash of light.
And another.
And another.

I laughed in relief. Patted his back and sat up. “It’s okay, fella. Good dog.  It’s okay,” I assured him, giving him a little hug.

Winston had just seen something new. But it wasn’t an evil, lurking Intruder. It wasn’t a wild animal encroaching on our yard. It wasn’t any kind of monster.

It was a firefly.  And another. And another. The little sparks of light in the black of the night had frightened our young dog.  He didn’t know about fireflies!  He’d never seen them before. He was doing his best to protect me.

Each year, on those hot, humid summer nights when the fireflies come out, I remember that night and the nights when I was a youngster catching fireflies. Fireflies and their brief bursts of light bring a small flash of warm remembrance to my life.

I think I’ll take our granddaughter out to catch fireflies some night soon.

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