“At that moment she was changed into a wonderful little elf.”
from the book The seven wishes in Julbocken, 1907 by John Bauer illustrated by Swedish artist, Alfred Smedbergs
About fifty fireflies all at once began to twinkle and dazzle the deepening shadows in the woodland garden of my front yard. Monarch Butterflies and fireflies are featured in two of my most remarkable experiences/encounters with nonhuman beings thus far in my life. (Who needs creatures from outer space when there are so many worlds and remarkable life forms right here on our planet Earth? Did you know there are more creatures living in a tablespoonful of garden soil than there are people on the planet?)
In 1998 I read a description of a firefly experience in a book (I can’t even remember the book now but the description is still vivid in my mind). The author described walking along the edges of rice paddies in Bali at night. The stars above were huge (as they can only be when one is so near to the equator). The still water in the rice paddies mirrored the stars above. As he was walking, the fireflies gradually began to appear. He described the feeling as being keenly aware of the heavens above while walking on the stars below, surrounded by the teeming life and vibrancy of the fireflies. He described it as being aware of all the possible worlds at once and recollected that he had difficulty maintaining equilibrium.
I became obsessed that I must have that experience too. Usually I take things as they come in a somewhat lackadaisical serendipitous way enjoying what shows up on my road (most of the time.) But this was different. This was something I wanted to happen.
Three years later in 2001 I went to Bali with a dear friend. I had been to Bali before but this time part of my determined purpose was to have the firefly experience. We were staying a few days in Ubud (a village in Bali) with an artist friend. One night we slipped away for a walk with the stars and the fireflies in the rice paddies.
It was such an unforgettable and indescribable beautiful experience of completeness. We walked for over two hours. In less than six months after that lovely experience my friend died in an instant. I think of him often, but I especially think of him when I see fireflies. And yes, I still persist in asking that useless question why. Why couldn’t it have been someone I never met instead of him? Selfish, yes, but nonetheless true.
There is a Japanese legend that says that fireflies are the souls of the dead. The Victorians believed that if a firefly got into your home, someone was soon to die. (Remember these were the same people who cut locks of hair from dearly departed ones and braided it into jewelry. These are the people who raised mourning to a permanent lifestyle. I have little faith in their judgment.) When/if a firefly gets into my home, I will greet it as the soul of a departed beloved and consider it as a brief comfort.
Native Americans also had their firefly traditions. In an Apache legend a trickster fox steals the fire from the firefly village. He doesn't get it all but he does escape the firefly village with a piece of burning bark that he gives to a hawk. The hawk flies off with the burning bark in its mouth. Embers from the bark fall as the bird flies and that is how the Apache people got fire.
Their flashing light show is how they communicate with each other—especially for courtship rituals. Males flash to let the ladies know they are looking for love, and the females respond with flashes to show their interest.
When you see fireflies, or “lightening bugs”, flashing their lights, you can rest assured that love is in the air and all is well in the garden and the woods.
Fireflies and fairies will be featured at our Midsummer Eve celebration down at the Garland Community Garden, Sunday June 21 which also happens to be the Summer Solstice and the longest day of the year. In Sweden, Finland, Latvia and Estonia, Midsummer's Eve is the greatest festival of the year, comparable only Walpurgis Night (to welcome spring usually May 1), Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.