Thursday, June 17, 2010

Night Lights

Last evening this is the scene I saw as I walked to the rear of our property and looked out over the young corn. The sun had set and the corn stood in dark, cold waves as far as the eye could see.
But above the tops of the young plants, fireflies flashed their yellow-green strobes. It is a magical sight, these "lightning bugs" which I remember from my earliest childhood. An insect that could light!
We'd catch them in large glass jars. Or perhaps "accidentally" damage one and watch its light change from flashing to solid as it slowly faded away.
You cannot see the fireflies in the image above because it is greatly reduced to fit this page. So I have cropped four of the fireflies from the full-res version and presented them below:

In this 15 second exposure (f/8.0), a firefly can travel some short distance. Their path seems always to be an arc, never a straight line. In the shot above, one firefly flitters above the corn while another apparently is at rest below. This reminds me of a comet moving near a star.

Above is an odd and colorful glow, almost a form of fading fireworks.

And this insect (above) travels an odd curving path. The gap at the bottom of the trail of light is either when the light was stopped or when the bug passed behind a blade of corn.

Finally this shot (above), cropped from a more distant spot in the field, shows five fireflies at once; two are at rest, three are in flight.
I remember many years ago sitting on a log in the woods north of here - late at night - and being startled to find various points of light at my feet. What could this be? I thought I must be seeing starlight reflected in drops of dew. I dropped down, moved the soil with my finger and discovered glow-worms were the cause: fireflies not yet in their adult winged state.
What can make a June night more special than these aerial lanterns? It is perhaps my earliest recollection of nature. And it is one, even as an adult, that I cannot quite believe.
Magic, indeed, is all around us. The very air lights with it.