The fun of fireflies in a summer sky never gets old

By Patsy Dill Rankin
From the August 2015 issue

commentary-fireflies Nature’s Light Show - Delaware Beach Life

I saw a light show last night, right in my backyard. It was one of the best I had seen in a long time and it reminded me of when I was a little girl. When I was growing up in Washington, D.C., we would spend the day at the pool, and then we’d come home and have a cookout and eat dinner on the patio. It was then that the show would begin.

As it got dark, the fireflies started coming out of the grass and would rise into the warm summer night air. My sisters and I would run barefoot through the yard and catch them in our hands. When our hands were full, and we couldn’t hold any more, we would run into the house and get the old empty olive, pickle or mayonnaise jars under the kitchen sink that my mom would save. One of us would then get the hammer and ice pick from the tool drawer and we would punch holes in all the lids of the jars. Back out into the yard we would run and we would put some grass and twigs in the jars and continue to dance around in the night air collecting what we called “lightning bugs.” As the jars filled, each began to glow like magic.

Tired of catching the lightning bugs, we would lie down on the cool grass and inspect our catch and spend hours trying to figure out how they glowed. They looked like little bulbs on a string of Christmas lights — in July! We would do this night after night without ever tiring of this game.

When it was finally time for bed, my mother would let us take our jars to our rooms so we could lie in bed watching them glow. Lucky for us we had such a fun mom! We would crawl under the covers and pretend we were in caves and the jars of bugs were special lanterns for us to see. We would watch the lightning bugs crawl around the grass and sticks in the jar and wonder what made the bodies glow so bright. Sometimes we would fall asleep with the jars in the bed and sometimes we would put them up on the bookshelves so we could see the glow from a distance. It was truly magical for all of us. My three sisters and I still talk about our lightning bug-catching nights!

It was many years later, as a teenager, I was driving from Washington, D.C., to Bethany Beach one weekend with a friend that I saw the best light show ever. To this day, I still don’t know where exactly it happened on, but I remember it was somewhere along Route 404 in Delaware. Just as the sun set and the sky was darkening, lightning bugs started to rise from the ground in a huge cornfield. It was one of the most amazing sights I had ever seen. It seemed as if the whole field lit up and there were millions of tiny lights flickering in the summer air that night.  I have never seen so many lightning bugs in one place since that evening. I couldn’t believe how the field twinkled with lights that night.

It was so magical!

When my daughter, Robin, was a little girl, we also would spend warm summer nights in the backyard, here in Bethany Beach, catching the lightning bugs for our jars. It seemed as if there were more lightning bugs here in Delaware than I had ever seen in D.C. as a child. My daughter was just as amazed with them as I was as a child. Night after night we would be outside filling our jars. It was as much fun for me as it was for her. I don’t think anyone could get tired of the wonders of lightning bugs. And yes, I let her take her jars to her room at night too!

So once again I can say that tonight I saw a light show. Right in my backyard. The lightning bugs were sparkling and twinkling everywhere! They were dancing in the sky for us to see. Slowly they would rise from the grass in my yard and float up into the sky like embers from a fire. From every corner of the yard, I saw them glow. Just as they did when I was a kid!


Patsy Dill Rankin, a longtime resident of coastal Delaware originally from Washington, D.C., is the owner and executive chef at Patsy’s in Bethany Beach. Her commentary about “beach food” was published in the July 2014 issue of Delaware Beach Life.


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