The field by the house was the old, yellow flax weed that
seemed to grow in every empty lot for miles, but it was ours and it seemed
different - it was many things to us: baseball field, the gulf between our house
and the McNamara's, the buffering expanse that filled the space between the true
backyard (and garden) and "the woods"... My father made an
imaginary diamond by setting up a large rusty arc of metal with fencing like chicken wire strung into it. We used it as a back fence when we played
baseball in the tall grass and never needed an extra kid to play catcher...2 on 2...
Nights in the summer... we would stand on the sundeck and
see the field swimming with bits of light... they circled and flashed, melded
and danced to some kind of cricket instrumental and whip-o-will lead
It never seemed too late in the summer to be awake.
The sun was out so long and I was so young that light was time - we get so
caught up in time meaning money or other things as we get older. Youth for me meant
time and warmth stretching out in long extended fingers over the whole
late was dark...always... but it was early.
It was still early because the sun had only just set
- the sky was just a flushed out indigo speckle overhead and the light near the
sun was smoothed red and gold creamed with clouds. The air, warm and dry,
carried sounds from everywhere, the Ragsdales who lived across the street played
in their yard, Mark and Danny called back to their mom to see if they could stay
out, I could hear my parents softly talking while drinking tea and smoking
My mother gave us mason jars with holes my dad poked
through the lids with an awl and we called back to Danny and Mark that we had
jars for fireflies. They vanished for a short time and emerged from their
house with jars of their own - they moved into the tall grass with animated
I ran my fingers across the punctured air holes in the
mason jar - it was huge to me- and I had to hold it in both hands in order to
carry it from place to place- it could hold a thousand... I could catch
My first firefly winked in front of my nose before I'd
even walked down the wooden steps into the yard. I wiped my hand in the
air and caught it, then opened my palm to see my prize. We'd learned early
on never to catch them too hard. My cousin, Steve, used to squash them
when they flashed so that they would stay lit - I never liked that at all.
I don't think you should be able to prolong beauty by killing it - especially in
such a grisly way. I'd learned to cup my hand as I went for them and
gently flatten my fingers - I wanted to see them alive, I wanted to see flashes
and the movement of orange striped wings.
My hands were so small that the lightning bug felt enormous
in it. I felt it wriggle as it crawled calmly around the inside of my
turning palm. I stared at it rapt as its abdomen flashed against my
green... then off... green... then off... then the wings flicked up frozen
for an instant before they blurred and it leapt into the air. I
carefully opened the jar and caught the firefly again, this time placing it
inside and screwing the jar closed. I watched it carefully as it crawled
along the inside of the contoured glass - green... then off... I'd caught this one
before anyone else...
We spread out into the slowly fading light and I was dizzy
with the amount of them and turned around and around - they were everywhere and
no where. At first I would reach out and try to grasp one just as it went dark and
miss... but as my eyes began to adjust to the light and I could see the
dangling shadows between the tall grass and was able to see them before they
flashed - to me, this was the trick. I would crouch just a little and see
a speck and blurred wings in relief against the fading sky... and move quickly
to catch it. This method worked better than any (at least for me) and it's
one method I can no longer use because I've grown and I can't look up to see how
they fly... at that age it was perfection. I could look up and see
exactly where they were.
It seems as if we were out there for hours - but I'm sure it was only a
short time - my memory of it fades as the sky faded to darkness, Mother called
us back to the house and we said our goodnights and returned with our winking
At the house we watched the three jars enamored, the black
silhouettes scurrying around in circles...flash, flash, flash.... I imagined
what it would be like to have a jar full of them - a jar full of stars, of blinking
gems, of living trinkets. I might have had only twenty then - because,
after a while, one would escape almost every time I'd open the jar. It was enough,
though. My brother and sister and I had each pulled in a full harvest and we marveled
at our catch.
Mother would let us keep them for a little while before she had
us open the jars one at a time and let them out. We watched as they slowly rediscovered their freedom and vanished- blinking away- into the air. It was sad and wonderful as they became part of the the blinking stars in the field behind the
jars- gone. There would always be more.
It was better than TV.