Night Lights

Did you stay awake last weekend to watch the lunar eclipse and the blood moon? I’ve always been drawn to the night sky. My earliest memory of watching the stars is from lying in the back seat of the car and looking through the back window. Mom and dad had friends who lived in the country and they’d visit to play euchre – for those not from the upper Midwest, euchre is a card game. There was no light pollution out that far, and that long ago before housing developments grew up in the fields. There were no tall buildings to silhouette dark places among the millions of stars. I was really young – maybe three or four years-old – and I loved those starry rides home.

So of course I was outside last weekend watching the moon slowly turn red and disappear. This is the view from a small deck off our upstairs bedroom, my perch to watch meteor showers and where I stood to watch the moon. But out of the corner of my eye small blue lights caught my attention. At first I thought I was seeing the blinking lights of an airplane through the trees. We’re in the flight path of Charlotte’s Douglas International Airport, so planes are a common sight. But the longer I stared, the more something seemed off. The lights weren’t off in the distance, they were in the trees.

The lights appeared then glowed a tracer – like the tail of a comet – before they disappeared. They started in random places and went in different directions. It was like watching a beautiful light blue meteor shower in the trees and the sky around them. The lunar eclipse was awe-inspiring; the blue lights were fascinating and ethereal. I don’t believe in fairies, but that night . . .

I knew they had to be a flying bug of some kind and have since learned they were probably Blue Ghost lightning bugs. I’d never heard of them! Blue Ghosts are typically found in the Appalachians (about three hours from my home), but sometimes pockets of them can be found elsewhere in the Carolinas and Tennessee. The sites I looked at also said the males don’t fly more than two feet off the ground, because the females don’t fly at all. I’m not sure why mine were in the trees (on their way to the mountains?), yet I’m grateful they were there. This time of year there are places you can visit and watch the blue light show the beetles put on among the rhododendron and forest floor of the Appalachians.

Lightning bugs – the more common yellow blinkers – were the heralds of summer when I was growing up, along with dandelions, watermelon, and burgers and hot dogs on the grill. It meant school would be out soon and bedtime was pushed back. I remember chasing the elusive flyers, mayonnaise jar in hand, bare feet in the dewy grass. A memory most everyone has. The more uncomfortable memory is smashing them to make ‘diamonds’ shine on my fingers.

When my kids were younger we lived out in the country with little light pollution, where the stars and blinkin’ bugs were plentiful. We had years of making those memories . . . and I didn’t let them kill the bugs.

There’s only a brief window when the fireflies are out, somewhere between two and four weeks, so if you’re not paying attention, you miss them.

Last Friday evening I noticed the window opened here in the Carolinas. I didn’t chase them with a jar, just simply sat and watched them float and dip across the yard. They also dance around me during my evening walk. They always make me smile. Blue Ghosts, lightning bugs, fireflies, blinkin’ bugs – glowworms by any other name are still enchanting.

I have one more night light in my yard that makes me smile. It’s not a natural light, but a solar light that belonged to my dad. He bought it on a whim and set it in the umbrella hole of his picnic table, just the light itself visible. It changes colors, cycling through red, green, and blue. Dad kept it out all year long so in the winter the light cast a varied colored glowing on the snow accumulated on the table. Dad loved watching it from his recliner and was tickled – and surprised – it lasted as long as it did. After he died and we were disassembling the house, Hubby grabbed the light for me. He knew what it meant to my dad, but also what the stars and night lights mean to me. When I see the pulsing light, I hear Dad’s giggle.

May we all take a moment or two these next couple of weeks to simply sit outside and enjoy the night lights.

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