daylight          reminder          of our date tonight

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Little Crum Creek  . . .  Fireworks nightly,
Fireworks for hours.*

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Much unmentioned life along Little Crum Creek moves unseen in the cloak of night.

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That partly explains the appeal of fireflies, whose silent lights beside the water draw me raptly to the dark yard through June and July.

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This year’s first lights appeared at the end of May as single, unheralded flickers that would reach their numbered peak a month later.

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Now, near the end of July,  yellow-green lights barely dot the air above the creekside.

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But the season’s variety of flashing patterns and colors here has suggested the presence of several different species of lightning bugs along the banks.

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Many emit a single light every 3-4 seconds, tracing a yellow “J”  low to the ground or dotting the trees high above.

Some flash 3 times, others 12, as they cross the night.

Some light twice per second in the rhythm of a heartbeat.

Others emit a startling, 5-pulse pattern like a strobe.

And a few sail elegantly through space on single horizontal trails of greenish light.

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Pinpointing the different species, though, can be tough. And Firefly Watch, out of Boston’s Museum of Science, provides some useful resources to help people try.

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For now, I’m just impressed with the simple fact of bioluminescence and the quiet attention it inspires.

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So, here, I simply open the camera to share what the fireflies themselves are writing in the night.

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Inspired by blogs like Nature Posts  and Hawthorne Valley, each of these pictures captures an 8-15 second period of time during which most bugs will flash multiple times while passing through a single frame.

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By the photos alone, we might trace the flashing patterns of several individuals.

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So I leave you with these primitive shots (whose lights look better when clicked to enlarge), that I too might be quiet again, and return my attention to those silent emblems of all that’s left unseen & unsaid along the creek.

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Along the wooded buffer of Little Crum Creek, a variety of fireflies quietly rise and fall, their glows beckoning like distant buoys on waves of humid summer night.

Out in Lancaster, a journalist sees children toting a jiffy jar full of fireflies through the darkness “like a Lite-Brite set.”

“And on dark summer nights,” writes a reporter from the Inquirer in a New Jersey garden, “lightning bugs blink in the bamboo like electric confetti.”

Whatever associations we might import, these remarkable creatures quietly carry on in their very own way and place.

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Unidentified firefly along LCC.

Around here they include the Pennsylvania lightning bug (photuris pennsylvanica), our state insect.

These little beetles communicate with light, either signaling mates or warning predators, and therefore prefer dark places like the dimming woodland where males and females vie for one another’s attention.  Successful females plant eggs amid rotting ground debris where larvae hatch to feed on slugs, worms, and insects all summer long.  Come fall, the larvae burrow underground for a further transformation into pupae. Fully developed adults emerge the following summer, maybe sooner, to illuminate the night as their parents had the previous year.

One night this year in the middle of May, the first golden flecks of light appeared on the Little Crum floor.  A few weeks later, these lights filled the air. From tree tops down, they silently beckoned everywhere.  The nocturnal soundscape of rustling, mewing, and buzzing critters, ever-bathed in the gurgling blather of the creek’s rocky shallow, was suddenly suffused with the slowing, quieting flight of fireflies.

I know another place, far away, whose fireflies hatch only from the cleanest water.  The mountain night is dark.  The fireflies, large.  Their slowly glowing lights are trailing and bright. They are also brief, lasting as short as two weeks some summers.  At other times of the year, folks might mark a poignant moment together with sentimental songs about the firefly’s impermanence.  But during the brief window of time when these hotaru fly, many will set aside their evening hours to simply sit and witness these silent lights by the streamside.

This is the news.

This is a tradition we might keep all season long beside Little Crum Creek.

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