Lightning Bugs Spark Summer Nostalgia

May 13, 2011

By Joanie Stiers

“There’s a lightning bug glowing in the hallway,” I said from my bed pillow. I thought perchance my husband, who sleeps nearest the door, would handle it.

“Close your eyes, and it will go away,” he replied, still motionless.

I smiled and rolled over to end the pillow talk and any effort to remove the harmless nightlight.

Lightning bugs must be one of the most delightful elements of Illinois summers. They seem as symbolic of summertime as fireworks, touching all lifestyles and locations with dark evenings across the state. We love to co-exist, though preferably outside. In fact, we’re willing to catch, touch and release this bug, while most others are greeted with a shoe. We also share histories with them. I remember chasing those fluorescent fannies with cousins, some of whom visited from the suburbs of Seattle and Los Angeles where the bug does not exist. They find lightning bugs an Illinois attraction. Perhaps we should market their presence to tourists.

In fact, I have as vivid memories of chasing lightning bugs as going to Disney World or visiting the Grand Canyon. It is one of Illinois’ most wholesome and inexpensive forms of entertainment to share with any age. For a recreational experience, you need only 30 minutes of your time, a set of hands, a steady eye and an old peanut butter jar. Even our youngest toddler can figure out how to play and is among the kids across the state running the length of the yard many times over before bedtime. In the bug-lit darkness, we hear our preschool daughter shout, “I caught one!” with jubilation comparable to discovering a morel mushroom in the woods.

And yet those who prefer to watch them from a lawn chair can find peace in the glowing landscape. One of my favorite sessions of summer relaxation comes from my parents’ front porch on a summer evening. The daytime heat subsides, and lightning bugs dance and flicker above the expanse of a cornfield that falls below the farmstead.

Those bugs seem to exist just to make us smile. Even Grandma had to laugh when she awoke one morning 15 years ago to find a jarful of lightning bugs flying free in her home, the day after we grandkids visited. The bug loses its appeal in the daylight.

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