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Monday, July 06, 2020


by Elinor Ann Walker

The 2020 Synchronous Firefly Viewing has been canceled due to COVID-19. —

It is finally July. Tonight I’ve taken the beach chair into the yard
at the top of the slope. It’s also the summer of Covid,
so the chair is free of sand, no beach trip this year.
From here, I can see down the long hill to the woods,
the green beyond broken by silhouettes of darker leaves
against a humid sky. In the last 12 years, the trees
have grown so tall that they surround the house
and yard like guardians, and in them now are millions
of fireflies, lightning bugs as I called them
when I was a child and still do. They are signaling
for love in the underbrush, in the evergreens, among
the hardwoods. For mating, of course, not love.
They are brighter and more numerous than I’ve ever
seen here, even though we’re not far from the Smoky
Mountains where 19 species and their various signature
bioluminescence patterns illuminate the trails. The most
famous are the synchronous species, and the Smokies
the only place in America where they can flash
this way in response to each other. What’s strange,
in an already strange summer, is that normal peak
times for this display are late May and early June.
It’s been a season of unusual and frequent hard rain,
some early cold snaps, and I’m not a biologist,
so I don’t know why now, mid-summer, so many
are flashing, though I’ve read that scientists say
a number of factors determine the peak before
the gradual decline. They only live about three weeks.
It must be urgency, competition, the necessity
of reproduction that require the show. It’s not what you
think, the synchronous patterns. It’s not that they all light
up at once, then go dark, then repeat. Instead, the males fly
and flash. The females are just where they are, stilled
high in the trees, where they respond with their own
light. But sometimes among the random flashes,
short sequences come together at once, bursts
of greenish-yellow dots punctuating and undulating
over and over, then a period of pitch dark, abrupt
cessation. Then they start again, and sometimes you
can detect waves of flashes, up and around, tracing
some invisible lines like a spirograph, while lower,
just above the grass, one may drift, linger, and fade,
almost as if in exhaustion, like we are all trying so hard
to light up together, each other, be light, when everything,
everything else, is asynchronous, on delay,
at a distance, and there is no union, just blank sky.

Elinor Ann Walker holds a Ph.D. in English from UNC-Chapel Hill and teaches online for University of Maryland Global Campus. She considers herself a recovering academic and has published under more than one name. She lives in Tennessee with three dogs and writes mostly on her screened porch, weather permitting. Twitter: elinorann_poet