A Light in the Woods

By Terri Duncan
I had nearly forgotten the sheer delight of capturing lightning bugs with my brother and sister, but one sticky night this summer, I remembered. A flicker of golden yellow darting through the pines rekindled in me a childhood memory that had smoldered, one that had regrettably almost been extinguished.

The children and I had been out, and as we pulled into the driveway, darkness was upon us. I was fumbling through my purse frantically searching for house keys when my son called out, “Look, Mama! I see a light in the woods!”

I glanced up, but all I saw were trees silhouetted in the moonlight.

“I see it, too!” squealed my daughter. “Look, Mama, over there in the pine trees.”

From the corner of my eye, I caught an ever-so-brief glimpse of golden light. I slipped on my glasses and peered into the darkness. Once again, there was a momentary flicker, and with that instantaneous spark, I remembered.

Though some call them fireflies, in the South we referred to them as lightning bugs. Every child knew they were a sure sign of summer's encroachment. My brother, sister and I eagerly anticipated their arrival, for that meant school was coming to a close, and bedtime would soon be negotiable. After the first sporadic sightings, we prepared for the deluge of lightning bugs that would follow in the coming days. We rummaged through cabinets in search of mason jars with lids through which Mama or Daddy, who possessed infinite wisdom and skill, punched holes. It was vital that the holes be the proper size. They had to be large enough to allow air to get in, but small enough to keep the tiny creatures from escaping once caught.

After supper, we rushed outside. While Mama and Daddy pulled weeds or watered grass in the waning light, we played the games of our childhood: Red Light, Green Light, hide-and-seek, or Mother, May I? So caught up would we be in our frolicking that we would forget our true pursuit until Mama or Daddy called out, “I just saw a lightning bug!”

All games ceased. My siblings and I would grab our jars, and the chase was on. We would race toward every flicker, screaming excitedly whenever we caught one of the delightful creatures.

“I got one!”

“There's one over there!”

“Mama! Help me! They're gettin' out every time I try to put another one in!”

Finally, when darkness enveloped us, and the songs of crickets and frogs reverberated, Mama and Daddy would call us to the porch where they had long since retreated. Hot and sweaty, we would trudge over and sit on the steps to count our lightning bugs. As moths fluttered around the porch light, we would discuss who had the most and brightest, then beg Mama and Daddy to turn off the light so that the only illumination would be from our jars full of lightning bugs. We'd sit spellbound, watching those amazing creatures flicker on and off. Each of us had our own theory of the origin of the momentary burst of light. No hypothesis was based on scientific fact, just a child's imaginative thinking. Finally, Mama would say it was time for baths, and my brother, sister and I instinctively knew that the time had come to let them go. We'd unscrew the lids and, on the count of three, open them wide. Streams of light would escape as the lightning bugs scattered, their silent, flittering wings dancing into the darkness. Too exhausted to chase, we would simply immerse ourselves in the spectacle.

Time and age inevitably altered the games my brother, sister and I played. There came a year for each one of us when we were no longer awed by the insect's ability to cast a golden light. Eventually, we failed to notice the lightning bugs at all.

Now, the memory of chasing lightning bugs with my brother and sister was illuminated in my mind as brightly as the creature's flash, and I shared it with my own children as we sat in the car. My son, knowing of my aversion to insects, was not convinced that I had ever elected to touch a bug and questioned the authenticity of my recollection.

“Did you really touch 'em, Mama?” he asked suspiciously.

“You bet I did. I caught more than your uncle and aunt put together,” I bragged.

“So,” he continued, gazing into the darkness where lightning bugs flickered and tempted, “can we catch lightning bugs, too?”

“Please, Mama? Can we catch them like ya'll used to do when you were a little girl?” begged my daughter.

And we did.

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