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In Sinc

In Sinc
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle
In Sinc
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle

We drove 170 miles to see them this past weekend. My sister, Audrey, has witnessed their spectacle for several years now, and after describing the experience to me, she always caps the conversation saying, “You’ve just got to see them next year! You have to see them to believe them!”

I’ve often written about fireflies (my family calls them lightning bugs) — those tiny beacons of nature that fill the evening darkness with their glow. Dozens of these tiny insects wow us with their show every summer in the fields and woods surrounding our home.

But for fifty-something years, I thought all fireflies were the same. They are not. I learned this fact a few years ago when my sister started talking about something called a “synchronous firefly.”

“In the Great Smoky Mountains, there are some fireflies that synchronize their flashing light patterns,” she told me. “They are all off, then all of a sudden, they are all on!”

It was hard for me to imagine… until last weekend.

My husband and I drove up to Townsend, Tennessee, and checked in at a dog-friendly Best Western. Then around 7 p.m., we drove to peaceful Cades Cove, a verdant valley surrounded by mountains majesty, just before the sun dipped below the tree line. In a train of cars, we navigated the loop around the valley and saw wildflowers, turkeys strutting in the grass, deer whipping their white tails, and even a bear who ambled out of a ditch right in front of our vehicle.

But the real show started after darkness fell.

Along with my sister and her husband, we parked outside the gate and walked toward the valley. Alongside us, a flood of folks streamed into the gate carrying lawn chairs. Some had children. Some had coolers. Some had redbulbed head lamps fixed to their foreheads. They set up shop on the edge of the field to witness something more magical than fireworks.

As for my group, we headed up a footpath into the woods. Even with beams of the “strawberry moon” streaming through the leafy canopy, the woods were so dark we could barely see our hands in front of our faces.

The show started all of a sudden. First, one. Then, two. Then, three. Then, dozens. Then, hundreds — flashing, shining, beaming, pulsing, radiating… “They twinkle like the lights on a Christmas tree,” my brother-in-law said.

We watched in awe. My sister and husband tried to take photos of the night creatures illuminating the blackness of the world with their celestial lanterns. And as they were distracted with their cameras and tripods, I saw my first “blue ghost.”

Whereas most fireflies glow white or gold in color, the blue ghost firefly males glow a pale blue and float just above the forest floor — illuminated for several seconds, up to a minute — looking for their perfect mate. Females turn on a dim blue light as well, as they dwell along the ground waiting.

“Hey, I’m seeing blue ghosts over here,” I finally said out loud. “Several. Blue ghosts. Several.”

“Oh wow. They look like fairies,” my sister whispered in the darkness.

“They do look like fairies,” I agreed as I took it all in. “Or ghosts… Blue ghosts…” Minutes later, we carefully followed the trail back to the main road, where a small crowd of people had gathered to watch the insects light up the adjacent tree line. There were patches where all of the fireflies would go dark simultaneously. Then, a few seconds later, they lit up the woods in unison.

On. Off. On. Off. Researchers have determined that the males flash together as a way for females to be certain they are responding to one of their own kind. There are other predatory firefly species that flash at night, so the female synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) must be able continued from page

to recognize males of their own species.

On. Off. On. Off. Their enchanting courtship dance mesmerized us and all who were fortunate enough to witness the show in the dimness of an early summer evening. Each gentle glow of the insects’ lanterns created a connection between the tiny creatures, the humans gathered in that space, and a boundless universe.

Staring at the blue ghosts and synchronous fireflies, time stood still, and reality seemed more like a dream. They reminded us of the beauty that lies beyond our grasp — the untamed wonders that still exist in this world. We reveled in the unspoken poetry of Mother Nature, and in the presence of the multitude of lightning bugs, we were transported to a realm where magic thrives, and suddenly, our souls danced with the stars.

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