The Magical Summer Nights Among Nature’s Little Lightbulbs
Summer “dog days” in the Deep South are all too often hot, humid, still, and stale. Temps in the upper 90s may not be the hottest in the nation (my brother regularly experiences 100+ in middle Texas), but the stifling humidity and often breezeless days tend to leave us soaked in sweat, forcing us to escape the summer suck either indoors or poolside.
Which is why dusk is my favorite time to ride in the dead of summer. The temps cool, the road traffic eases, and the coming dark calls forth one of my favorite spectacles of the year- what I’ve come to call “the firefly hour.” Here in north central Georgia, from mid-May to late July, some years even into August, between about 8:30-9:30pm, the woods and fields are awash with the flickering luminesence of fireflies, or lightning bugs as some call them. Found mostly across the South, fireflies come in approximately 170 distinct types, each with specific flight/light patterns.
My wife and I live in the midst of wooded acreage, and evenings on either our front or back porch yield front row seats to a nightly display of light, as the woods are awash in blinking yellow flashes, like tiny bulbs on a Christmas tree. This is an experience not usually found in city life. But out here in the southern rurals, we treasure our early evenings, not the least of which because of our fireflies.
I love these little luminescent dudes. Photo by Treehugger.
I’ve begun gearing up and riding out on one of my bikes during this time, down darkening country roads as the sun sets beyond the tree line, splashing the sky expanse in hues of orange, pink, red and purple before deep night blue. My pace is slower, as much to drink in the calm as to be mindful of the nightlife beginning to stir. On uncrowded roads, with an uncluttered mind, I’m seeking the quiet places that I know fill with flashing bioluminescence, to slowly ride through or stop, shut off the engine, and go stand in the midst of. There is a mythic tranquility to be experienced, riding through the gathering night, the roadsides on my left and right filled with dancing lightbulbs. On my front or back porch, I’m a spectator to the show, which I love, when sharing it with my wife Lisa. But on my motorbike, riding through the show, I’m a participant, not merely observing, but joining in the dance.
Two nights ago, while slowing to a stop about 9pm by the rolling hills of a large cattle ranch, a lone firefly landed on my helmet faceshield and suddenly flashed. It was so bright, I felt like someone had shot a penlight into my eyes. I laughed out loud at the enjoyable shock of it, and as the little creature walked about on my shield, flashing a couple more times, I took care not to disturb it’s ritual. In a moment, it flew off, oblivious to the sudden delight it had granted me, flitting its way across the road continuing on its nightly quest. It’s flashes lingering in my vision, I was charmed and speechless, to say the least.
Being a practicing Christian, motorcycle riding is often a deeply spiritual experience for me, something I’ve referenced before in my signature work, “Mystic Rhythms”. It is truly “in my blood.” At this time of the year, when riding during the intense heat and humidity of summer midday is not always very pleasant, the nights yield great delights, such as fields and woods of fireflies. I’ve commented to friends and family recently, “Summer fireflies are like God’s way of saying the world still holds much beauty, and light will always shine through.”
No matter how chaotic the world has become, no matter the daily fears, frustrations and questions, a night among the fireflies of summer reorients my heart. These little bearers of light are also messengers of hope. Tonight, we watch them again from the back porch. Tomorrow, I’ll join in again, and ride among them in the firefly hour.