June 21st, 2010

Midsummer magic

Last night, Midsummer's eve, was a beautiful evening in Milwaukee, and,
a bit after 9:30, we went out to take a walk in the air. We decided to
walk to one of our "magic" places, a couple of acres of meadowland along
the Kinnickinnic parkway, dominated by an old oak tree. The oak stands
alone, and bears the scars of two separate lightning strikes, which
would make it doubly sacred according to some traditions I have heard.
It is also hollow, and lost much of its upper branches due to age, but
is still leafing out in spring and bearing acorns, and so is a symbol of
endurance for us.
Late June is the beginning of firefly season, and we were particularly
looking for them. We saw a few of the common yellow-green types along
the way. (Fireflies can be distinguished by their pattern of flashing.
One common type, usually later in the year, lights in a rising, wavering
line. Another, the ones we were seeing, gives a steady blink of a
second or so as it flies along wherever it is going.)
At the old oak, I looked to the west edge of the meadow and saw a goodly
number of tiny lights flickering in the wood's edge. We walked over
there to investigate. What we saw was evidently a species of firefly we
had not observed before: smaller, and actually blue-white in color, like
stars in the bushes. They blinked with a very brief, but bright light,
true "lightning bugs". Moreover, from where we stood, there were
literally hundreds visible, ranging from the grass at our feet to the
nearby treetops. The constantly changing rapid blinking was like
fireworks, a genuine natural coruscation. We watched in wonder as the
darkness grew and the frequency of flashes declined slowly, to the point
where we could bear to look away. We took the path homeward, elated that
we had witnessed some real Midsummer magic.