Gaia's Birthday Present
Wednesday, Jul 02, 2003
So it's only two days until I turn 30, but nature's present came early. I walked outside tonight at about 9:30 to go see a free showing of Goldmember in the park. Stepping off my porch, I stopped in my tracks. Between one warm evening and the next, the fireflies had come out in force.

From my first visit to Pittsburgh over a year ago, I was clear on the concept that I wasn't in California anymore: Bright sunny 80-degree days are no guarantee against a quick thundershower before sunset. When I came here to live last August, I learned about the cacophonous cicada and their 22 year cycle. Fall introduced me to the colors of which Pennsylvanian nature is capable, followed unusually quickly by Winter's blankets of snow, applied again and again. With the Spring came the rain, lush green grass right outside my window, and an ocean of dandelions. Approaching the end of the full circle, I thought that I knew all of Gaia's gifts to Pittsburg, but stumbling upon thousands of glowstick-green fireflies softly lighting and fading while weaving in front of, behind, and around tombstones in the twilight struck me dumb in a way I suddenly realized I had feared I was becoming incapable of as I enter my fourth decade.

I've often used the cemetery as my emotional soundstage over the last year, whether surreptitiously placing easter eggs on the statues with Rachel, picnicking on the grass, following foot-deep foot-holes in the snow on the way to the bus or striding hom, weaving through the headstones beneath the midnight moon with 'Rest in Peace' blaring in my iPod's earbuds. This felt totally different though. Tonight the graveyard was alive.


It was exactly 20 years ago today that I had last seen the faerie. A half a world away, in a vineyard an hour north of Florence, I was just two days away from my 10th birthday, travelling through Europe with my mom and sister. The fireflies were everywhere around the trees and the vines, flicking on and off, talking to each other, and speaking to me as well. It was a magical night outdoors, eating a fine dinner, feeling the Summer warmth, and walking a path under a waterfall reputed to take a decade off the ambler's age (a completely different prospect to someone not quite ten yet).

As we waited for the tour busses to take us back to reality, I urgently found a jar and caught a few of the fireflies. I was so proud. Mom told me that I could keep them if I wanted to, but I should know that they'd die within a day, and they would never glow again. I let them go just before I climbed the steps onto the motor coach. Mom smiled.


The faerie have changed in the intervening decades, but then so have I. In 1983 I was spastic with youth, and the fireflies reflected this with their fast binary blinks. Somewhere on their abdomen they were flittering their shutters open and closed, sending precise signals through the dusk.

Nature, digitized.

Today's gift was so different that at first I didn't even recognize it. A sine-wave of brightness in the corner of my eye, another floating above my car. I literally rubbed my eyes to clear these errant embers floating senselessly. After one travelled right in front of me, I realized what they were, so different from what I expected. Focusing out beyond the grass and to the headstones beyond I could see hundreds of them, brightening, peaking, and dimming to invisibility, seemingly constant lights drifting between this dimension and another. Seeing headstones literally lit by their passing glow, I thought to myself, 'Buffy can't touch this.'

Reality, smoothed.

I had to share, so I called Rachel to tell her that she was right and the fireflies had indeed come. "Of course, silly!" 'Will they stay? or is it a one-night deal?' "They'll be around all month! It's what they do."

Feeling the magic lift me, I got in my car and drove to the movie, seeing only one or two fireflies the whole way. Apparently the dead get first dibs. Well, them and their neighbors.

Tomorrow I'll see how well the video camera can handle this unique low-light setting. For tonight, I'm cherishing my first birthday present.

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Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
I've been blogging at since 1998.
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