Two nights ago, fireflies appeared in my meadow for the first time this season. A blink here, a flash there, tentative sparks floating above the meadow. In coming weeks they will increase by the score until at season’s height they will create a spectacle of magical proportions—a silent fireworks display on the grandest scale, challenging the mind and the eyes to fully absorb the glittering display. Sunday night, though, the sparks were sporadic, nomadic, minutes apart, so that I felt I could trace the individual insects hovering above the grass. There was an intimacy to the moment that will not come again.
I struggle with their names. Calling them fireflies doesn’t really capture their presence. They don’t burst into flames, like some single-handed conflagration. Nor are they bolts of lightning, as the name lightning bugs suggests. How about starflies? I like the grace of that, and in my meadow they certainly create a flickering galaxy of ever-changing constellations.
The accompanying photo is of my meadow as I look out this evening from my deck. The air is soft tonight and less fragrant than Sunday, when the first starflies emerged. Then there was a thick honeysuckle pudding of smells in the air. Regardless of the weather, the view is a jewel. Deer often nestle among clumps of grass below during the night; my flashlight catches their eyes, red coals in the beam. Skunks, possums, turkey, foxes—I even saw a bear waddle across the creek once. The deck is sheltered by four trees—a pine (Virginia pine, I believe), a sweetgum (damn those pesky spiked balls they shed) and two grand old oaks, one a pin oak, the other a red oak. They are the lords of the meadow, reigning from this ridge over the poplars, oaks, pawlonia, locusts and others that form an amphitheater below. A perfect setting for a starfly festival.
I started renting this cottage three years ago. My stated purpose was to have a base in Charlottesville as I worked on my second beer book. Those who know me know better—I am a lover of the outdoors, of solitude (though I’m not a recluse), of birds, of breezes, of feeling the ocean of change swirl in waves, seen and unseen, passing within and without. At this moment I hear the yacking of a pileated woodpecker, its call like the sputtering of an old jalopy. A Canada goose just honked by, probably headed for the pond on the other side of the hill. Earlier I saw my first scarlet tanager of the season; Sunday, an indigo bunting. Wrens have built a nest among the beams that hold up the deck, only a few feet from where I sit now.
This cottage, this meadow, these trees and birds and all—they have changed me. Perhaps it’s my age as well—I’ll be 70 in November—but my soul finds rest here, like the artificial snow in one of those watery globes you shake up and watch as the flakes settle. Peace comes if you let it. Also, I have read more extensively in spiritual matters and tried to put into practice some of the disciplines of mindfulness. Meditation, yes, though I lack the discipline at the moment to make it part of the daily routine. Still, I try to pay attention to the small things I might ignore if I were in a hurry. The swallowtail butterflies clustered around a puddle in the driveway. The bumblebees that police their territory like buzzing bullies. The tracks in the mud—two hooves, like knuckles pressed in the ground, showing that a deer has passed recently. And, yes, the starflies. I’m eager to see the first one tonight. Wish I may, wish I might…Can you wish upon a starfly? I don’t see why not. If so, I wish you were here to share this with me.