“Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro‘ the mellow shade
My Dearest Asher,
At dusk, in my wild garden, a hundred fireflies dance around the pearly pink calixes of trumpet lilies, the luminous cobalt blue of salvia and the throbbing yellow of gloriosa daisies. I would like to believe that one of the gardener’s greatest reward are these these moment of unsurpassed beauty. Alas, Carl Sagan’s voice echoes in my ears,
““Fireflies out on a warm summer’s night, seeing the urgent, flashing, yellow-white phosphorescence below them, go crazy with desire…What is all this in aid of? What is the torrent of passion and obsession?”
He goes on to answer his own question,
”The hen,’ said Samuel Butler, ‘is the egg’s way of making another egg.’ It is on this level that we must understand what sex is for. … The sockeye salmon exhaust themselves swimming up the mighty Columbia River to spawn, heroically hurdling cataracts, in a single-minded effort that works to propagate their DNA sequences into future generation. The moment their work is done, they fall to pieces. Scales flake off, fins drop, and soon–often within hours of spawning–they are dead and becoming distinctly aromatic.
They’ve served their purpose.
Nature is unsentimental. “
As if such a brutal summation were not enough, there is Diane Ackerman, in Cultivating Delight,
“Both males and females flash, using a personal code during courtship. There are also femmes fatales lightning bugs, which lure other females’ mates by mimicking their passwords. ..A male answers and waits…How long she delays is what the male deciphers. ..Then the male dives down, expecting to mate, the femme fatale eats him, acquiring a chemical he carries that will arm her and her offspring against predatory birds and spiders.”
Does this information add to my delight? Not at all. Once I saw fireflies as the purest magic. They were, to my younger eyes, as falling constellations, as tiny whirling fires,as a crowd of unmoored dancing stars. Do I need to know the state Vermeer’s stomach before he transformed a plain dairy maid into a beguiling presence that reaches out from flat stretch of canvas and grabs you heart? I do no and what is more, I think, that as we grow older we need to process information of that sort with great calm. We need to look at the scientific pearls these brilliant writers cast before our pedestrian minds and turn gently to the unquestioned beauty of garden no scientist can explain away. Tonight and for many more summer nights, my garden is filled with fireflies. Join me. I want to look with younger eyes at the little green lanterns the fairies use to light their way home.