It’s late. After ten, anyway, maybe pushing eleven. The sky is as dark as it gets out here on a night like this. West, where the sun set long ago, a faint purple emanates only to be snuffed out by the oppressive night air. Far off to the south you can catch the distant glow of the Big City of Springfield; to the north above the black trees, it’s a dulled haze that must be Buffalo. I face this way. Behind me, if I crane my head, a bare bulb in the barn catches the heads of the sleepy horses as they poke out of the stalls to eye me with lazy curiosity. It’s past their bedtime, too—I’m keeping them up.
I squat on the grass; my legs tire and so I sit down, Indian style, in the dew. I look up. Stars everywhere, dizzying millions of stars. Didn’t I, once, in elementary school, make a mock planetarium, or did I dream that? I, or the I in my dream, took a piece of stiff black paper and pricked a hundred holes in it with the sharp point of a compass. And then I folded it round, and held it over my head, and looked through it at the long buzzing fluorescent bulbs. Behold, I am the LORD. Let there be light. And I have created the heavens and the firmament, go forth and multiply, be fruitful and prosper.
There’s Venus over there, hanging heavy in the sky, the brightest light of all. The compass must have slipped and punctured too far; too much light comes in.
“But here there is no light,” wrote Keats, “Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown / Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.”
And what are those green and yellow flickers? I reposition myself in the damp grass. My eyes have adjusted to the dimness by now. Fireflies. An eerie stillness. The only motion I can see are the flittings of the luminescent insects. They are different species, different shades, different patterns of glowing abdomens. It’s invertebrate Morse code. I’m here, and here, and fertile, and free. Let’s sanctify this dark night and consummate our union.
Beyond the lightning bugs there is real lighting on the horizon, out Buffalo way. Sometimes there are fireworks over the trees back there, and this has the same pinkish cast. There are no bolts, and no thunder, just silent flashes and brief illuminations. Static electricity. The power of heat. It’s humid and sticky; the clouds approach, pulsating with energy as they come. But there will be no rain tonight.
I would sit out here forever, now that I am entranced in the moment, but still, reluctantly, I rise and head back to the house, taking care not to disturb the now-slumbering horses. The lights outside the garage are on, and the driveway is littered with tiny black beetles. I can’t take a step without crunching a dozen obsidian carapaces. Meanwhile, the larger June bugs and big brown moths are dive-bombing my head and falling dumbly to the concrete. There’s even a huge dung beetle stuck on its back, clawing helplessly at the air above it. And there are a couple of wise fat old toads sitting there at the buffet.
I pick one up; he’s got a slight yellowish cast to him, and he’s medium in size. This one’s a talker. He starts chirping immediately, pushing against me with his powerful hind legs, glaring at me through beautiful gold-flecked eyes. I remember a favorite pastime of my childhood. Carefully scooping the toad up in one hand, I rush back out the pasture. I wait for my eyes to readjust to the dark, then I follow the seemingly random motion of one of the small green lights. I zero in on my target. I can’t see the firefly, but I move closer with each flash until I can reach out and swat with an open palm to knock the insect to the ground. Then, gently, I reach down with a soft thumb and forefinger to collect my prize as it climbs up a blade of grass. Now I retreat once again to the light.
I place the squirming toad on the ground and he stays put. Then I lightly toss the bug in front of him. He turns to face it. The bug spreads its wings, starts to walk off. Hop, hop, a lunge and gaping fast mouth, and it's over. The amphibian is quite the warty little lion. I snatch him up and hold him in the dark, hoping to catch the faint glow of the still-live firefly as it slides down his throat, but I am disappointed. Ten or more years ago, this used to work wonderfully, and provided many nights of diversion for the neighborhood children. Oh well.
And now I must snap out of the moment, of the trip down memory lane, of the perfect sticky dark night. There are things to do. I’m tired.
I leave toads and beetles and lightning behind and come inside, to the laptop and the TV and my parents and dogs and a cold shower and a warm bed.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music: - Do I wake or sleep?