Once Upon A Time: The Blue Darkness.

Fireflies 5
Fireflies 5 (Photo credit: ShutterSparks)

Sometimes when I walk at twilight between the pine trees, it seems like the darkness is creeping up behind me.  Sort of like water oozing under a door, or mists rising off the water.  But heavier than mist.

It doesn’t bother me, the dark.  A lot of folks live in fear of the dark, putting up candles in every corner and huddling near the fireplace as evening comes on.  But the dark is safe, like a blanket.  I do my best work in the dark.

I’m a firefly counter.  That’s right.  When I was a little boy, my daddy never said to me:  “Jed, someday you’ll grow up and count fireflies.  That’s right, my boy, you’ll be a firefly counter, and that’ll be your living.”

Now, if you’d asked me what classes I took in school to get ready to be firefly counter, I’d just laugh.  I didn’t really go to school, and I never thought I’d be a science guy out in the woods.

So how’d I end up with firefly counting.  If you want to know, it was from my time serving my country.  I was into poisons.  Did my time working with the chemicals of war, as they say.  I got really interested in poison toads, those little tree critters that the native tribes used to tip their blowgun darts.  I figured there was some use to those native poisons, at least from a homeland security standpoint.

Turns out, those little frogs aren’t the only ones with a little poison to keep ’em safe.  Our little fireflies keep poison on hand, just like the frogs.  It’s got its own classification, and there are some science boys thinking about using the poison to help people.

So they hired me to go out and look for fireflies.  I’m supposed to count the number of males and report back to them.  We’ve got an issue with one species of firefly edging out another species.  The new fireflies don’t have the poison, but they like to have lunch on the ones that do.  We call ’em the “femme fatale” fireflies, and I’m supposed to figure out how to take care of the problem.

How do you fix a problem like that?  Well, it turns out the fireflies we want to keep get lured into a trap by the others when the females blink seductively at them.  The poor male fireflies think they’ve got a match, and instead they’ve got trouble.  But we’ve got a secret weapon.

If I can figure out how to get all the fireflies blinking at once, they’ll overpower the tricky ones.  It happens all the time, and they call the blinking in unison “phase synchronization” and write long papers about “spontaneous order.”

All I know is that I’m the one guy anyone knows who can get the fireflies to do it.  When I was stationed in southeast Asia and the Philipines I used to do it all the time for laughs.  The other boys would bet me I couldn’t do it, and I’d go out into the dark and pretty soon the whole night would be blinking together like Christmas lights.

Do you want to know the secret?  I think it’s because I start with the larvae blinking.  You just find a patch of glow worm larvae, and then you get a tiny little flashlight and start chatting with the larvae.  If you can get the larvae to start going together, then pretty soon the adults pick it up and the whole night is full of silent singing.

It’s quiet out, but I’ve got the smell of the damp in my nose and the blue darkness coming up behind.  I know from the smell that I’ll be coming in a bog pretty soon.  That’s where the larva hang out, and we’re going to start us a light jam session.

Moral:  When we limit our horizons, we limit only ourselves.


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