On June 30, 2011, I’ll load my rolling dufflebag filled with clothing and such, my backpack filled with computer and books, and my CPAP machine (its bag crammed with anything else I can fit into it) into the car, head for Cleveland-Hopkins Airport, and fly to Newark where I will wait for five hours and then take another plane to Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.

Last evening as I walked the dog after sunset, the sky still a fairly bright blue with plenty of light to see, I looked into the darkness of the woods behind our house and saw that the fireflies were beginning to flash their mating signals. I realized that I’m leaving Ohio at one of my favorite times of the year – firefly time! I love fireflies!

I was born and raised mostly in the little-known southern Nevada community of Las Vegas, but my summers from age 5 to age 13 were spent mostly in the southeastern Kansas town of Winfield. That area of Kansas has a lot of fireflies; my mother was born there and both of my parents were reared there. Those summers were spent living with my paternal grandparents and with my cousins, the children of my father’s only brother, who lived next door to them. A nearly daily activity during June and July was catching fireflies in the early evening so we could watch them flash on our dresser all night long.

I was delighted when we moved to Ohio to find fireflies here … not as many as there were in Kansas, but enough. An informational website maintained by Ohio State University has this to say about firefly habitat:

If you live in the United States, west of about the middle of Kansas, you are not apt to have the flashing type of fireflies in your area. Although some isolated sightings of luminous fireflies have been reported from time to time from regions of the western U.S., fireflies that glow are typically not found west of Kansas. The reason for this phenomenon is not known.

I can guarantee you that I never saw a firefly in Las Vegas! But those summers in Kansas there were plenty.

Fireflies are called different things in different parts of the country. I’m pretty certain that firefly was the most common term in Winfield, although occasionally someone might call them lightning-bugs. I know that some people also call them “glow worms” but the only time I ever heard them called that was when my mother would sing a song with that title popular back in those days. Whenever I would talk about catching fireflies, she start humming or singing that song. Here’s a YouTube video of the Mills Brothers singing it (it brings back a lot of memories!):

My cousins and I would catch the fireflies and keep them in mason jars. We’d grab a handful of the grass growing along the fence of our granddad’s garden (this was in the days long before “weed whackers” and no one ever seemed to feel like trimming that grass by hand, so it was always good and long, perfect for a mason-jar firefly habitat) and shove it in the jar, then run through the yard after the flashing bugs trying to trap them between jar and lid. The lid, of course, was a mayonnaise jar lid (Grammy wouldn’t let us use her good canning lids) that we had pounded a nail through several times to give the bugs air. We’d usually get five or six bugs in each jar and that would be enough for the night.

We’d put the jars on the dresser next to our beds in our grandparents’ basement or at my cousins’ house, wherever we were going to sleep that night, and then do something else for the rest of the evening. Eventually, though, bedtime would roll around and off we’d go, to lay awake as long as we could watching the fireflies flash. Come morning, Grammy would encourage us to set them free and we would dutifully dump out the contents of the jar, wilted grass, fireflies (dead or alive, who knew?), and all.

There are no fireflies in Ireland (though I’m told there’s a Klezmer band there called The Fireflies) so I am leaving one of my favorite sights of summer, the evening flashes of the lightning bugs. There are no fireflies in Ireland, but there is in the ancient verse and the Celtic spirituality of the Irish people a deep appreciation of nature and of nature’s God. In the early 20th Century, Dr. Douglas Hyde collected many bits of folk poetry reflecting that appreciation, including this one found in Dánta Dé. It is described as “ceol na ndaoine, as Albain, tré Lachlann MacBeathain” (“folk song from Scotland by Lachlann MacBeathain”); the notes in the hymnal indicate that Dr. Hyde collected it in 1924:

Áluinn fairrge spéir-ghlas
Áluinn uisgeacha ciúin,
Áluinn taithneamh na gréine
Ar na tonntaibh tá fúinn;
Faoileáin ‘g eiteal ‘s na spéarthaibh,
Teas le h-éirghe an lae;
Ó! nach áluinn, a Dhe!
Siúd uait amharc na sléibhte,
Bárra a bhfolach fá cheó,
Caoirigh ciúin ar a dtaobhaibh,
Síot a’s sonas a’s sógh.
Tógfad suas mo chroidhe-se
Tógfad suas mo ghlór,
Molfad Eisean a-choidhche
Fá gach iongantas mór;
Árdaigh feasta mo smaointe
Mar na sléibhte ‘san aéir,
Ciúnaigh feasta mo chroidhe-se
Mar an t-uisge soiléir;
Éist le m’athchuingh’, a Thigh’rna,
Tar a’s cómhnaigh im’ chléibh,
Réidhtigh m’anam: ‘s im’ inntinn
Déan-sa t’-árus, a Dhé.

The direct, non-metrical, prose interpretation:

Lovely is the sky-grey ocean,
Lovely the quiet waters,
Lovely the shining of the sun
On the waters below;
Seagulls flying in the skies,
Warmth with the rising of day, –
O how delightful is Thy world!
O how delightful, my God!
See in the distance the mountains,
Summits hidden in the mist;
Quiet sheep on their slopes,
Peace and pleasure and bliss.
I will lift up my own heart,
I will lift up my voice,
I will praise Him for ever
For each wonder great.
Lift Thou upwards my thoughts
Like to the mountains above,
Calm Thou henceforth my heart
Like the waters clear;
Hear, O Lord, my prayer,
Come, abide in my breast,
Quiet my soul, and within my mind
Make Thy dwelling, O God.

There are no fireflies in Ireland, but I’m sure if there ever had been they would have found there way into the religious songs of the Irish people. Fireflies spark our imaginations and light up our souls on summer nights. In a way, I’m sorry to be leaving the fireflies.