When I was little, one of my favorite summertime activities was catching lightning bugs. I used to stand at attention in the dark until I spotted one close to me. Then I'd carefully cup my hands until I could grab one. With my hands still cupped, I'd peer down through my fingers to watch the little green glow flash in my palm. Sometimes, I'd deposit them into a jar. (Didn't we all do that? Don't we all now tell the same sad tale about the jar full of suffocated lightning bugs that gave their lives for our pleasure?) Sometimes I'd just catch them and release them and enjoy watching them light up around me. It was practically a rite of summer, the appearance of the lightning bugs as the weather warmed up. And we knew the summer was ending each year, when they disappeared again.
In California, at least where we lived in California, there were no lightning bugs. When the sun sank below the horizon, that's all there was: darkness. I missed a lot of things about the South in those days, and most of it was related to things that I associated with the summer: iced tea, fried okra, barbecue and yes, I missed the lightning bugs. But I grew accustomed to their absence. And when I moved back to the South a couple of years ago, I was delighted all over again to rediscover them. Unfortunately, we don't get as many in our neighborhood here as I remember having in my yard as a child, but we do still see them.
This summer, William's finally old enough to not only appreciate them for their fleeting beauty but also to try to catch some himself. In fact, he and his friend Leland were chasing after them at Cheekwood last night; we had taken them to hear a musician play in the gardens while we had a picnic supper. After the musician packed up his banjo and his ukelele (why, yes, it was a kiddie show, however did you guess?), the sky began to darken. And sure enough, little fluorescent dots began to flicker all over the vast expanse of green lawn. Sweaty from dancing, William tried to chase after a few lightning bugs. He wasn't quite quick enough and had to be satisfied with letting his dad trap a few for him to study. But I feel confident that he'll be catching them himself by the time the summer ends.