It’s very common for American children to catch fireflies during the summer months. We would stay outside until 8:00 or even 9:00 p.m. as the sun was late to set. We might be playing catch or riding bicycles through the neighborhood when all of a sudden we’d notice a single green glow hovering in the air before us. It would last for maybe three seconds before it disappeared. When we saw this, we’d run inside to get glass jars from the kitchen because we knew that this evening the fireflies would be out. As the sky turned from deep red to purple, our backyard became a secret garden where magic was real. When a tiny green glow was spotted; sometimes in the air, sometimes on the fence, sometimes in the grass, we would run to it before its light extinguished in the hope of finding its source, the fairy insect firefly.
They are extremely peaceful creatures, with small rose coloured heads, a sunflower seed body and curious light bulb rears. They don’t bite, sting, or emit an odour, they don’t plague your kitchens or eat the wood of your house. They are special. They are perfect playmates for children on a warm August evening.
As soon as one was caught, we unscrewed the tin lids of our jars and slipped them inside. They waited patiently, periodically glowing green in their own leisurely way, as more and more of their compatriots were added to the collection. By the end of the evening, a child might have gathered up to 50 fireflies crowded together in his litre sized jar, truly a sight to behold. Sometimes we placed a twig or a leaf inside to provide them with a few comforts of their garden habitat, but I don’t think they took any notice of it, they certainly knew the difference.
We would sit with legs outstretched on the grass and talk, turning the jars over in our hands, watching them tumble from one end to the other, from the lid to the base, from the base to the lid, tapping the sides to release the stubborn ones from clinging to the glass wall. We’d argue as to who caught more, trying to add up the number inside but losing count after the first dozen or so. Then, as the sky turned black (as all skies do every night), we’d become silent, lay on our backs and look up at the stars, breathe in the summer air, and try not to think about school which was fast approaching, and would arrive unwelcome at the beginning of September. Occasionally we’d playfully interrogate each other about which girl at school we liked, and spend a few minutes trying to pry out the secret before losing interest.
It’s 9:30 now, getting late, my mom calls out to us from the porch, it’s time to come inside.
“Don’t forget to release those fireflies” my mom says,”you’re not bringing them inside this house, understand?”
Yes, we understand. It’s time to say goodbye. We unscrew the gold lids of our jars, the tin sound scraping against glass echoes louder than before as the night is quieter than before, with the exception of the crickets.
The first firefly crawls up to the very lip of the jar, pauses for a moment, extends the dull black shell that conceals its delicate wings underneath, and bends its legs slightly in preparation to jump out into the sky. Suddenly, its tiny wings flutter quick and silent and it disappears into the darkness. They no longer glow late at night. We watched this hypnotizing process repeat itself for several minutes, some of the more content ones remaining at the bottom of the jar, within their glass fortress. I remember leaving my jar on the back porch before I went inside so that they could exit at their own leisurely pace. I’d go to the kitchen and get something to eat, maybe watch some TV and get ready for bed. I’d quickly forget the events of the evening as I lay half asleep planning the adventures of the next day. Perhaps the fireflies also forgot me and my glass jar too as they moved on to other yards, to be caught by other children.