This commentary originally aired on July 18, 2014.
It strikes me that among the ethereal mysteries of our planet, there are some that it would be deeply challenging to explain to a visitor from another world. Some of these pleasures are things like music, art and lightning bugs.
“Earth is really pretty cool,” I’d say. “We’ve got these sounds that we call 'music' that alter our state of mind. Then we have images that people create by combining colors in such a way that simply looking at them can transport us to another place. We call that 'art.' And then we have little tiny flying insects that light up at night like bright yellow stars. Those are called 'lightning bugs.'”
No one would probably believe us.
I know that I have personally never gotten over the sheer eye-candyness of lightning bugs on a summer night. It was a joy when I was young to catch them in a jar by the handful, having contests with my friends to see who could catch the most. Later we would release them all at once and enjoy the slow-motion Roman candle effect of dozens of them scattering brightly into the Tennessee night.
Once, years ago, my young niece and nephew from Southern California came for a visit when I still lived in Tennessee. Their first night at our house, they were wide-eyed and mystified by a display of backyard lightning bugs, apparently not having such creatures in LA. I remember thinking, how sad for them. They live out there where all the much-ballyhooed stars of Hollywood are, yet their nights are never lit by our beloved little lightning bugs.
Now, as an old guy, I still get a thrill when I spot the first lightning bug of the season. I’m grateful for the small dots of nostalgic happiness that lightning bugs bring us every summer – tiny flashes of insight into what a wonderful planet we live on.