Through the Lens: Firefly
It is June and summer has arrived once again in West Virginia. The calendar has officially welcomed the warm months of summer. The smell of fresh cut grass and warm tar oozing from the hot black top roads flood our senses as the season begins.
The pool is opened and the area is filled with the sounds of children splashing in the clear fresh water. The near by playground that has sat quiet all winter and spring is now regularly visited by families out for a summer day of enjoyment. Over on the ball field a young girl has just hit her first double in a T-ball game. Her parents cheer like she just won the pennant. Life is good in our small community as we start the beginning of summer.
With a late evening rain the small green tree frogs begin to sing the songs of mating season as they hide among the new leaves in the park. The shrill chirping of insects pierce the night air as the last light of day fades behind the Ohio hills.
At this time of year I often sit in my yard swing and wait for the darkness and the world that accompanies it. Then in the darkness I see the first one of the year. No more than ten feet away it hangs in the lightless air, occasionally giving away its location. It is the small insect that brings light into the dark night. The firefly.
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. Quietly you wait until the glow of light gives away their location. Then you hurry toward that point and wait until they again turn on their light. Carefully you reach into air and capture the small glowing creature. While you are holding it closed in your hand it once again turns on the light. The light spills between your fingers and penetrates into your hand.
I have a story I told around a camp fire many years ago about Mother Nature’s glowing lights in the night. I hope you will enjoy the legend of the Firefly.
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 in their daily lives. 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. Today with them having no written language, we are unsure what happened to these people we know as the Mound People. Many ideas have been put forth over the years to try and explain their disappearance.
It had been a long winter for the people in their home 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 was deep in the woods that surround their village. 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. The winter was difficult for the people of the village to survive the extreme conditions.
As the warm sun of spring started to melt the 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. The village’s stores of food had become covered in mold and infested with rodents. The children of the village had suffered thought the long dark winter to surcome to sickness the village elders could not stop.
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 villagers had lost all the young children to the terrible illness. The villagers used reeds that grew along the river to make a burial shroud for each child. Then in a sacred place each of the children was laid to rest and covered 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 off the river a sudden gust of wind stirred the fading embers of the fire. The air over the mound became filled with floating embers. They did not fade into the night air, but started to move around the villagers. The creatures of the night that had been silent began to sing as the glowing embers moved up and away from the earthen mound surrounded by the villagers.
An elder stood up and reached for the glowing lights. As he did a small insect lit upon his hand and glowed brightly. He proclaimed to the people that their lost children had returned to light the night. Never again would the children of the village die from the dark fever. The man opened his hand and the glowing insect flew into the night sky.
The next time you hold a firefly in your hand, gently release him to patrol the night to protect the people in a place we call the Ohio Valley. That is how I believe it happened long ago Through the Lens.