I hit a firefly coming east on the Thruway. It struck the windshield, flared like a match with green flame, and then faded, leaving only an ordinary bug spot on the windshield. I felt almost as if I had killed a fairy. I had taken some light from the world.
Fireflies seem magical to me because of their ability to create light. I've read scientific principles behind bioluminescence, but it doesn't erase the magic. Light is miraculous.
One night last summer, driving with Keith and Graham, I remembered having earlier seen fireflies along River Road, especially thick at the corner of the field by the hedgerow. Since they live in Detroit and I’ve never seen fireflies there, I suggested we stop. We pulled to the side of the road and Keith turned off the headlights. The fields, tall grass and hedgerows sparkled with fireflies. Above in the sky, the constellations moved too, but so slowly, we couldn't see the motion.
I held my breath and watched Graham’s face in the darkness. "Do you see the fireflies, Graham?" I asked, "Aren't they pretty?"
"Yeah," he said, but he didn't look or sound excited. Not like I was.
There seem to be fewer people enjoying and fewer fireflies than there used to be. One night a couple weeks ago, I saw one firefly in the cedar outside my house. One is not enough. If there aren't at least two, there won't be more.
But in the fields out in the countryside, there are still fireflies. Maybe I just don't get out in the summer’s night fields enough. Perhaps I need to go out and count the fireflies, see if there are as many as I remember.
Tonight, coming home through highway construction, I came upon a truck holding a huge globe of light. Beneath it, several men wearing masks were ripping apart the pavement. Dust and dirt filled the air. It cascaded away in a fountain, lit by the strange globe of light. I wished I could have set up a tripod and recorded the scene. But the line of traffic and the narrow rows of cones prevented it.
The strange light and night scene touched a deeper spot, and again, I wished I hadn't hit the firefly. Recently, Keith told me that Graham suddenly said he remembered stopping to see the fireflies. He’d sounded happy about it. I released an inner breath I didn’t know I was still holding. Maybe I passed the torch. Perhaps someday, cupped in his hands, Graham will show a winged and living light to another child.
Mary StebbinsFor Keith and Graham
050701b, 6-28/29-05 (Midnight in the hospital emergency room)