Arthropods _ including insects _ are the most diverse and most populous of the “higher” animal organisms. They are all very strange creatures. It is hard to imagine we share the same DNA foundation, and are cousins some multi-eons back. Some _ like mosquitoes _ I could quite well do without. Others _ like bees _ are helper friends and I worry about their survival. And then there are multitudes _ like butterflies and lightning bugs _ that “simply” add beauty and wonder to our world.
Late June of each year arrives with the surprising emergence of lightning bugs. There is no sign of them until suddenly one evening, perhaps as I take out trash, there are sparks glittering here and there.
Sometimes I need to look twice to be sure it is not an illusion. And then more and more arrive as days go on. Their patterns zoom about, and like an evening fog their luminescence lifts higher and higher as darkness prevails, beginning level with the grass, ending the evening up near the top of trees. Where and how these mysterious creatures spend their days and the winter I have little idea, although once in a while one of them may do the equivalent of a flying stumble during daylight.
They are a wonderful reminder of childhood. Catching them is easy enough, three-year-olds master the simple upward scoop in no time. Cruel-five-year-olds have learned to dismember them and paste glowing globs on arms and face. Into early adolescence, some kids put them in jars for “study,” all too frequently and tragically forgotten.
Pesticides, children, lawn mowers, birds, whatever _ how can they ever survive? Yet they do, reminding us once again of the amazing persistence and regenerative capacities of nature. A few bugs become multitudes in no time _ again witness those mosquitoes. Some of them may even adapt quickly so that sprays no longer affect. I continue to lament what seems a dearth of old reliables _ where are the tent caterpillars and gypsy moths and monarch butterflies of yesteryear? _ but some of the old ecology somehow continues.
Perhaps I am too old to attach much meaning to this. Each day is a miracle, with wonderful treasures still available if I open my senses. Lamentation of what used to be, fear of what may arrive are less my concern than when I was younger and presumably had more power. A thrill of discovery, of unexpectedly finding nature renewed, another summer marked, are enough. Whatever may come, lightning bugs are here now.
False optimism, you may shout. Guilty as charged. Some may approach each evening grimly aware that all is an illusion. We are doomed to die when we are born. There is much wrong with the world. Even more seems to be getting worse by the hour. And nobody listens to our lament. But _ there goes another flash _ and my mercurial mind is once again turned to happy memories renewed.