The Light In The Darkness
Editor’s Note: Mr. Clegg sent us this revised edition of a story he wrote in 2009. We find it fitting for August.
The warm evenings of August have given way to the sounds of crickets in the nearby woodlands near my home. I enjoy sitting on my porch at this time of year listening to the night sounds and watching the fading summer’s light. It is also the time of year when the fields and woods near our home become alive with a nightly light show provided by one of Mother Nature’s small creatures. These tiny insects of the night are called lightning bugs, or fireflies.
If you grew up in West Virginia, you have at some points in your childhood gone into the night and caught this small glowing creature. Waiting until the glow of light gives away their location. You hurry toward that point and wait until they again turn on their light. And then, carefully, you reach into the darkness and capture the glowing creature. While you are holding it closed in your hand, it once again turns on its light. The light spills between your fingers and escapes. Carefully you hold this wonder of nature so you do it no harm.
I have a story for you that I heard while sitting around a campfire many years ago. It is a legend of how the fireflies came to light up the night sky.
A long time ago, the Ohio Valley was home to the first true Americans. We know of their existence by the earthen mounds they left behind. These ancient mounds hold many secrets of those early people’s lives. We know of their pottery and basic tools they used to survive in a world before even simple technology was possible. The study of their remains tells us they were not much different from us today.
These Native Americans lived in peace and harmony with the world around them. They most likely lived in a time when everything could be explained with few words. Still, today, we are unsure what happened to these people. Many ideas have been put forth over the years to try and explain their disappearance. But, the legend of the fireflies may be part of their secret.
It had been a long winter for the people in their homes near the waters of what we now call the Ohio River. The stores of grain and dried fish had run low due to the extended winter. The waters of the river had frozen deep and no fish or mussels could be harvested from the solid waters. Snows had come early and were deep in the woods that surrounded the valley. This made it difficult for the mound people to hunt for fresh game. Even the wood that heated their homes was buried deep in the snow and wet. That particular winter was difficult for the people of the village to survive the extreme conditions.
As the warm sun of spring started to melt the hard grip of winter, the first child became sick with the dark fever. The parents tried to give the children as much food as possible to help the young get through until spring. What the people did not realize was the village’s stores of food had become tainted with dark mold from the damp. Not only the mold, but what had not been tainted was infested with the rodents from the nearby woods. The small woodland creature’s food reserves had also dwindled during the harsh weather conditions. The young children of the village had suffered through the long dark winter, but the spring brought something much worse than winter’s cold. It brought a sickness that quickly seemed to spread among the children. Their parents and the village elders tried all they knew to help the young children taken with dark fever, but they could not stop it.
As the snow melted and the river began to flow once again, the children became incurably sick with fever. The sickness in the children lingered on until the water Maple leaves filled the trees. Then in late spring, one by one, the children that had fought so hard to survive the winter began losing the battle.
By the first days of summer, the fever had taken all the children infected. The villagers used reeds that grew along the river to make burial shrouds for each child. Then, in a sacred place each of the children was laid to rest and covered with dirt to create a mound of earth higher than three men tall.
On the first night of the new moon, the villagers sat around the mound and sang songs to mourn their loss. Three separate fires surrounded the earthen mound for the ceremony. As the singing stopped so did the sounds of the night. The villagers became bewildered and afraid at the sudden changes in the night world.
From the dark river, a sudden gust of wind stirred the fading embers of the fire and lifted them high into the air over the mound. But, the glowing embers did not fade into the night air. They swirled around the frightened villagers. Then, as suddenly as they stopped, the creatures of the night began to sing as the glowing embers moved up and away from the earthen mound surrounded by the villagers. Slowly they moved into the nearby woodlands and began flickering their glowing lights.
One elder who was unafraid stood and held his hand towards one of the glowing embers. As he did, a creature he had never seen before lit upon his hand. It sat ,seemingly looking at the man for a moment, and then, it glowed, illuminating his hand. He proclaimed to the people that their lost children had returned to light the night and protect them. He explained to those gathered that never again would children of the village be taken from them with the dark fever. The man held his hand high and the glowing insect flew into the night sky. From that time long ago, the night is made a little brighter by these tiny creatures Mother Nature gave the power over darkness.
The next time you hold a firefly in your hand, gently release him to patrol the night to protect a people in a place we call the Ohio Valley. That is how I believe the first fireflies came to be, as it happened long ago… Through the Lens.