My neighbor’s dog woke me at 1 a.m. this morning. Chloe is a good little Heinz 57 mixed breed watchdog who only barks when there’s something to bark at. I figured it was just kids, joyriding on our secluded dark roads in the middle of the night, but I climbed out of bed to check it out. I threw open the window that looks over my front yard, but other than the tendrils of smoke from the wildfire on the mainland creeping along the forest floor, everything seemed normal. By this time, Chloe had stopped barking, and I stood at the window, listening to the croaking frogs and the shrill “qui ko wee” call of the Chuck-Will’s Widow.
Just as I was about to go back to bed, I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye. Could someone be nosing around my house at this hour? I scanned the dense forest bordering my driveway, where I’d seen the light. There it was again; deep in the forest, a definite flash, as if someone had illuminated a tiny flashlight. A split second later, dozens of tiny lights began flashing, then hundreds. Some floated at the level of the rooftop where I stood, looking out over the yard; others emanated from deep in the forest; still others were scattered throughout my front yard. As I watched in awe, a thousand tiny fairies danced for me, their graceful movements traced by the glittering candles they held aloft.
Suddenly, I was child again, running around my south side Chicago neighborhood at dusk on a summer’s eve, chasing fireflies. It was a ritual on our street; every kid came armed with a glass jar covered by a metal lid, into which air holes had been poked. We placed a few stalks of grass into our jars, hoping that this would provide sufficient food for the “lightning bugs,” and that our mothers would let us keep them. But of course, we were all made to release them before retiring each evening.
I was brought out of my reverie as the tiny lights in my yard grew fewer and fainter. Then, as suddenly as they had appeared, they disappeared.
Not long ago, I was talking to a friend who, like me, remembers catching fireflies as a child. Neither of us had seen a firefly in years and we both wondered: Where did they go? What happened to them? Now I know. They live in the magical, misty, forest that surrounds my house on the Outer Banks. Ah, how I will miss this house.