The Lightening Bug

A couple years ago, on a summer evening, we were entertaining my cousins from Australia out on our deck. This is a blue moon, snow in July, extremely rare occurrence. The last occasion that we were all together was in 1959.

At some point in the evening, there was a pause in the conversation and I realized that my cousin’s daughter had slipped off the deck in the darkness and was wandering around the yard with her camera. I asked her what she was doing and she said, “I just must have a snap of these fairy lights!”

Can you imagine suddenly seeing, for the first time, the thousands of sparkling, blinking, frantic tiny lights that are my lightning bugs, in the trees, bushes, grass?

Our farm has a completely amazing population of lightning bugs. Down at the bottom of the pasture, at dusk, they rise out of the ground, swirling, twirling glimmering dots of palest yellow, neon green and blue white, the exact opposite of the blanket of dark. I like to watch as they blink, then disappear, to reappear several feet away. To catch them, you have to guess what direction they go, or be fast enough to snatch them with your hand while they are lit. I think I used to be good at this, because I remember filling mason jars with grass and a twig and then using it as a temporary home for dozens of bugs. As long as I left the lid on the jar, I was allowed to have the jar in my room on my nightstand. I would fall asleep to the glowing semaphore they sent. I hope they found love, if briefly, inside the jar.

Because that is what that light is about. Love.

I took my grandsons down to the display in the pasture one evening. In my best National Geographic Documentary Voice, I explained that the light was a signal, that all the bugs were looking for love. “So,” my eldest grandson said, “At some point in evolution, a bug said HEY, I bet if I slap a honking huge light on my ass, the girls will love it?”

He’s seventeen.

The stuff that makes a lightning bug light up is called Luciferous, after yes, the Doomed Angel Lucifer, whose name means “Light Bringing.” A google search of luciferous reveals that scientists inject this into mice and potatoes. I wanted to see this, so I search for images of glowing mice and blinking french fries but sadly, the pictures of the mice are all about breast cancer and the blinking fries do not exist. But should. I do find pictures of glowing Christmas trees that have been genetically adjusted to have luminescence (I want one) and even someone reading on a park bench at night, lit from above by a glimmering genetically altered mimosa tree. Instead of street lights!

When mixed with oxidizing agent Luminol, the same substance is used at crime scenes. It glows blue in reaction to the iron in blood, revealing trace evidence and sometimes, I guess, speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves in the pursuit of truth and justice.

And I wonder … do people glow?

Of course they do! And don’t! How many times have you heard people say that a bride was glowing, or that an evil person had no light in their eyes? Is this just a figure of speech? Not according to Japanese researchers Masaki Kobayashi and Daisuke Kikuchi from the Tohoku Institute of Technology, who, along with Hitoshi Okamurain, “imaged the diurnal change of this ultraweak photon emission with an improved highly sensitive imaging system using cryogenic charge-coupled device (CCD) camera” and took DOZENS of pictures of a glimmering light coming from a human that was 1000 times weaker than our naked eye can see. They postulate that what they captured are metabolic changes that pulse and rhythmically emit light. This light, like the light on a lightning bug, emits no heat, and thermographic images of the same human, taken at the same time, are completely different.

So, no happy glowing mice, no radiant french fries, but there are pictures of glowing humans. I wonder if I have a highly sensitive imaging device inside of me that does see the glow in others at times, but if I have lost the ability through evolution or something similar to the scratches I get on the lenses of my glasses which prevents me from seeing the glow in others always. I am wondering if I can will this ability to the forefront of my life and use it to change my attitude (I will admit to being a judger at times). I experiment with this on the way into work. Instead of feeling anger against the slow moving, enormous SUV meandering down the road like a lost elephant in front of me, causing me to miss the opportunity to speed through three stoplights, I try to visualize the happy vacationing family inside. I fail miserably, succumbing to self serving mini-rage. But I get my point. It’s going to require more work to recharge my camera.

Of course, this is not a totally original thought, that people have an energy or a glow that we sense more than see. When the Beatles went on their Magical Mystery Tour, they were looking for ‘enlightenment.’ Think of the thousands of images from hundreds of religions that show deities and average folks, radiating. I know this, but somehow, I suspect those who talk about it. A further search on the internet shows lots of sites willing to help me see the light, for a price. There’s the rub. I just don’t like mixing enlightenment with something concrete, like money.

On one web page I find a picture of a mason jar of shining bugs and grass, just like I used to make. And below it, is the etymology of the word blessing. Apparently, in Hebrew, blessing means “go forward.’ Hmm. Go forward. Into the light. Where have I heard that before?

It’s a smack me into the sunshine and call me Shirley moment. Looking for light, I found a blessing.

I don’t know how my cousin’s pictures of the fairy lights turned out – that was before digital and phones with cameras. But tonight, if it’s still and the fireflies are out, I am going down into the field with my camera to see what I can see. And today, I am going to try to see the light in you.

Image bydavedehetre, licensed underCreative Commons.

  • Published on Jun 11, 2010
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