Jesse Gall

Fireflies Like Flashbulbs Part Three

In The Mountains on June 15, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Where were we? Right, Gatlinburg. Sugarlands. Trolleys. Elkmont. Crossed a river. First firefly sighting.

I jumped back across the river, ecstatic to see the light show that had eluded me for so many days. I may have been too excited because on one of my more daring feats of river navigation, I slipped and fell into the river, butt first in between a few rocks. My foot slammed into a rock when I slipped, an excruciating pain throbbing from my big toe. I tried to shake it off because, well, I was sitting down in freezing mountain river water getting wetter and wetter every second. I stumbled not so gracefully back to the other side of the river, missing my sandals by a good twenty feet. Limping barefoot through the forrest, hoping none of these little green plants just happen to be poison ivy, I thought about how stupid the phrase “Walk it off!” was when it applied to foot injuries and then I made my way back to my shoes and then back to my camp.

It was about that time that I realized my shoe was very wet, specifically underneath my searing toe injuring.  You may have thought I was being dramatic about the toe. Nope. I looked down to see my big toe nail cracked in half, right down the middle making two cabinet doors out of my toe, blood spilling out onto my shoe and the path. I was leaving a small bloody trail. It was at this moment that I imagined a large bear twenty miles away, deciding he could use a snack after getting a whiff of that human that just slowed himself down. But Jesse, bears don’t just attack people! Um, have you seen The Edge??? If you haven’t, you should. Alec Balwin. Anthony Hopkins. A guy from Lost. Man-eating Kodiak bear. Brilliance.

Anyway, one of my friends saved the day with some BandAids and a pack of ice, so all was well as I finally sat down in my chair to see the show. It was about 9:00 in the middle of June and it was starting to look like Christmas. Five lights blink six times, all at the same time, floating just above the river, dancing will-o-the-wisps. Looking across the path I see four or five more of the flies, bobbing through the vegetation, blinking a dim blue light so faint it might not even be there. Like a wish forgotten.

It was then that the flashlights came back in the form of five ten year-olds, lying on their backs staring into the trees, lights pointed up like spotlights. I now have an undying hatred for flashlights that may never subside. You see, their pesky gazing flashlights kept falling, beams of red light assaulting my vision every ten seconds. I’m lucky I don’t hate ten year-olds now.

One of the girls in my group decided to be my hero and play light police, as she strolled over and politely asked them to turn their lights off or stop shining them in our faces. They actually stopped too. Who knew the best way to get a ten year-old to do something was to ask nicely?

When their lights finally clicked off, the fireflies were full swing. With this particular breed, the females sit on the ground, watching the sky for the best and brightest, quite literally. See, the males fly around above, flashing like an organic telegraphing system, blinking quickly six times in a row before disappearing into darkness for eight seconds. That’s what makes these fireflies so synchronized. The males all blink their six blinks at once, and then for a short time, the forest is empty in darkness. Not a light or a flash.

Then, like firing neurons, the forest is ablaze with sparkles and stars. Like looking into space, at lights so wondrous you ask yourself if they are even really there. The flies bounce like celestial yo-yos, kissing the world, gushing their pheromones into the damp and electric air, each fly competing for a nod from the female audience under the canopy. A morse code of awe, thousands of fireflies linger and gesture lambently.

Then, like it was never even there, it stops. Eight seconds of anticipation fill the space and you can almost forget there is a forest at all. You can sit there and stare into the darkness with such a rich and bridled expectation that you lose sight of the environment entirely. All there is, all there can be, is waiting. Waiting for the flashbulbs because for one second, when the first light flickers, signaling all the others to commence their illustrious illumination, it is possible to forget everything but those lights. Like cameras in an arena, they explode all at once and they are all that is. There is no worry, no concern, no anxiety, just unadulterated organic beauty at its best and most unleashed. Unfettered and free, this phenomenon is beyond any individual, forcing out any ego, driving out any semblance of self, making room for a honest out-of-body humbling.

It is among the coolest things I have ever done and I will never forget it.

Until the end, the Mended Blend.

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  1. Sounds a lot like how I felt about the bio-luminescent bay in PR when we were able to jump off the pontoon boat and let the fireworks begin. Creation left by itself is pretty amazing! Loved your tale of it!

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