By Forrest Fisher
The half-moon rising in the distant eastern sky was dim and sheltered by scattered, giant, white clouds. The openings in the clouds allowed us to see millions of stars and the vastness of the Milky Way as we have never seen before. There were no streetlights anywhere within miles of this cheerful and peaceful mountaintop place and the crackle of the fire was adjusting to the new log. It provided the perfect music to especially enjoy this time of day.
Our adventure into the outdoors took a wonderful turn this summer when Peggy tossed a new log onto the simmering campfire. The sunset was just about complete, a stream of beautiful tinsel sparks rose upward. It was a warmly coded skyward message to life in the night woods, and to us, that darkness had arrived.
Rose, my wife of 49 years, had a warm smile like she often does, as she was discussing some fine points of nature and observing wildlife with our granddaughter. Kiley was completing a summer research internship for the State University of New York Environmental School of Forestry in Syracuse, New York, as a senior college student. I sensed that science and adventure were finding common ground. Rose had questions about the recipe to observe the ancient winged ancestors that lived here, just as they started to light nearby fields and forest.
Peggy’s sister, Barb was visiting with her two nieces, Molly (9) and Carly (12), and the girls had noticed the blinking lights of the fireflies too. Molly noticed them first, “Aunt Peggy, look there! There they are! Wow! They’re beautiful!” Carly added, “Why do they light up and blink like that Aunt Barb?” A short silence followed as Barb looked to Peggy who prepared to answer, “Well, the fireflies that light up are the boy fireflies and they’re calling to the lady fireflies to show them where they are. They’re looking for a date. It’s that simple.”
Peggy smiled. Barb smiled. Rose and Kiley smiled. Carly answered, “Oh, ok, I get it.”
Just then Molly rose from her fireside chair and ran onto the backyard lawn. Molly cheered, “Look at all the fireflies!” The back lawn was skirted by a knee-high grassland meadow around the backyard perimeter. Kiley went to Molly and added to the conversation about fireflies and explained the great job that her Aunt Peggy and Uncle Ken had done with helping everyone in the whole world understand more about fireflies at this ranch.
Rose and I shared thoughts about these intriguing airborne insects of the night. Do they carry a message for us all? It seems that fireflies offer magic and wonder to every outdoor adventure where the land and air is clean, like here, in the middle of this wonderful Pennsylvania woods just south of the Allegheny National Forest, in Tionesta, Pennsylvania.
We all sat there in awe of all the twinkling airborne light forms. Hundreds and hundreds of them. My mind transcended to an effortless zone of harmony and wonder for a moment, a thought-binding moment.
There is mystical, divine and magical experience from the light of a true firefly experience like this. I sat back into my chair and looked at the embers of the fire, then upward to the thousands of stars of the Milky Way shining bright. How lucky we were to be here.
Just then Kiley started to strum her Ukulele, sharing the chords played with Molly and Carly. She said, “This is a C, E minor, F, G and A minor, that’s it, pretty easy with a little practice,” Would you like to try it? That was Peggy’s que to bring her Ukulele out from the house to join in. Two Ukulele’s at the same campfire! We all knew this was one special night for our memory book of perfect medley. Kiley and Peggy were strumming and singing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and the flight of the fireflies surrounding us seemed to be applauding with their brilliant intricate flashes in some sort of light beam code. Where is Peter Pan? I was thinking. Like the two ladies playing the music and all of us singing or humming along (I can’t sing), were on their stage. Tin Man and Judy Garland were there in spirit. There were bears, wolves, trout and other critters of nature alive in our campfire talk.
That’s when I learned that we can talk to fireflies.
We can question them. They reply. Feel the connection by virtue of the extraordinary light gallery.
We can all connect to nature by our visits with fireflies. Such visits require no special gear. A comfortable chair, perhaps, a glass of wine from a grape aging specialist, Gregg Stoos, and a quiet campfire with friends.
The fireflies, like guiding spirits, dance to challenge the darkness with their light.
They hover and move silently through the darkness.
Their movement and motion with different color light can appear to write a letter or a symbol. Are these the source for early Greek symbols? The roots of math? My mind wanders and wonders.
The fireflies provide a sure source for wonder…are they sharing a language not yet known to us? A secret code? Perhaps early settler groups to North America could understand this code? I ask myself. Is it a computer code? A binary switch of sorts? A prismatic code not yet known to us? Does it lead to a vault of undiscovered knowledge?
Whatever signals the night light beacons of the fireflies share, to watch them is enlightening.
All these thoughts, yet, so many questions in wonder, how can that be? I ask myself.
I realize I am so relaxed, so mesmerized by the flight of these miracle insects that fly with lighted inspiration. Everyone sitting around the campfire is too.
Just being near these fragile airborne creatures of the night is such a reward to cherish. For us astonished onlookers, their intricate behaviors seem to share a virtue of loving life and respect for one another.
As the music lessened, the magic around the campfire was evident to all. This Black Caddis Ranch place is a really special place, as we were isolated to the darkness of this perfect night with a band of chivalrous fireflies that led us to enjoy a nighttime gallery of airborne art to appear all around us.
Kiley added, “Each firefly species is different and has a season. Their season can be predicted by growing degree days, it’s a sort of farm language. Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) are out during June about the time the orange daylilies bloom and usually peak at end of June. The “big dippers” or photinus pyralis, start to appear at the beginning of July.” Rose and I returned home the next day to sit in our backyard about three hours north. We saw some fireflies there too, but nothing like what we saw in Tionesta, Pennsylvania.
Peggy and Ken Butler host a wonderful Bed & Breakfast Lodging House called the Black Caddis Ranch in Tionesta, Pennsylvania, it is home to the Pennsylvania Firefly Festival, and I guess we know why now. There is firefly magic in this special place. The spacious accommodations are wonderful and are modernized amidst a home that was built in the 1800’s. Real wood floors and walls and kitchen tables, a giant stone fireplace in the front parlor, complete with homemade pancakes and maple syrup from nearby trees, and a myriad of other breakfast goodies, this all made this place that sort of place that my better half and I search for…and only hope to find. Peggy and Ken, and many close friends, are the originators of the Pennsylvania Firefly Festival (PAFF, https://www.pafireflyfestival.org/) that is hosted at their ranch, but there are fireflies present on most summer nights. It’s a magical place.
We’re going back to be inspired by the night flight of fireflies, the Milky Way, a quiet campfire and honest friends. The daytime song and buzz of hummingbirds adds to the peace and magic found here.
For more info: Ken and Peggy Butler – Black Caddis Ranch B&B and Cabins, 13558 Route 666, Tionesta, Pa., 16353. Phone: (814) 463-7606. Web: www.blackcaddisranch.blogspot.com and also https://www.pafireflyfestival.org/.