Summer Lights.

There have been more lightning bugs this year than I can remember seeing in a long time. Last night I walked through the yard and lost count of how many there were, each one drawing a distinct J shape in the air as they lit up the darkness. And yet I always feel guilty when I see them because I remember how many I sent to their deaths when I was a kid. Not that I wanted to—there were just some things I didn’t understand, mainly that if you put a bunch of lightning bugs in a jar and leave it next to your bed overnight it doesn’t matter how many holes you punch in the lid. Unless the holes are big enough for them to get out. It’s something I only did a few times but still I think I should have learned the lesson after the first time I woke up to find a jar full of tiny corpses on my bedside table. That also didn’t stop me from performing some pretty disturbing science experiments, like the time I put a lightning bug in the freezer for one minute. When I pulled it out it had stopped moving so I ran outside to the air conditioner and held the lightning bug under the hot blast of air. After a minute or so—I didn’t think to time this part of the experiment—it revived and flew up into the air. So I caught it again and took it back to the freezer for two minutes. Again the air conditioner was able to revive it, although I might have gotten the same result if I’d just left it on the warm ground. At three minutes it took much longer to revive and, sensing I was at a crossroads with one divide leading to a possible career as a serial killer, I let the lightning bug go off into the night, hopefully to find a partner.

It wasn’t until several years later that I read an Appalachian folk tale that, had I read it earlier, might have stopped me from experimenting with lightning bugs. Maybe it would have even convinced me to just let them be. It seems a man was sitting out on his porch with a bunch of his buddies one night watching the lightning bugs and he remarked that they must be cowards, afraid of the dark, to carry their own little lights. A lightning bug heard this and challenged the man to a fight.

“Meet me in the town square tomorrow night,” said the lightning bug, “and I’ll show you how cowardly we are.”

“Will you be bringing any of your friends?” the man asked.

“I won’t need to,” the lightning bug replied.

The next night the whole town showed up to the square, everyone having heard that one of them was going to fight a lightning bug. The lightning bug was there, all lit up.

“All right,” said the man, putting up his fists, “let’s have this fight!”

The lightning bug immediately flew up his nose and the man punched himself in the face. He fell down unconscious and the lightning bug flew out his ear. Another man, not entirely sure what happened, put up his fists and challenged the lightning bug. It flew up his nose and he knocked himself unconscious. A dozen of the town’s biggest, strongest, and not exactly brightest men went down in this way.

Circling over their bodies the lightning bug asked if anyone else was up the challenge but the remaining townspeople just quietly backed away.

Now I also let the lightning bugs alone, even if I’ve got my own reasons.

Facebook Comments


  1. mydangblog

    We get lightning bugs here sometimes and I can sit on the upper deck for hours just watching them twinkle in the grass.
    mydangblog recently posted…The Most Dangerous GameMy Profile

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’ve written about this before but my favorite lightning bug experience is when a British friend came to the US and saw them for the first time and thought he was hallucinating. I wish I could have an experience like that because, as magical as it is just to watch them, I think seeing them without really knowing what they are would be even more special.

  2. Ann Koplow

    Thanks for lighting up my world, Chris, and please let go of the guilt.
    Ann Koplow recently posted…Day 4191: Let It Go DayMy Profile

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I always appreciate your advice to let go of unnecessary guilt, and so much of it is unnecessary. You’re a light in the darkness, Ann.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge