Trails of Light in the Dark. But now they’re gone and I miss them, the lightning bugs.


Once upon a time long, long, ago – in the days when there was but mere radio and a little while before television and video games and air conditioning – we would escape the heat of the house and, frankly, boredom, and go outside in search of even a hint of a breeze on warm summer evenings.

Evenings like these right now.

We – we being sister Rheata, brother Sam and I — would go in search of amusement.

Just anything to be entertained.

Just anything.

The lightning bug.
The lightning bug.

Lightnin’ bugs seemed to be doing much the same.

They would come out, glowing, glowing, glowing.

Faintly. Then brightly. Faintly. Then brightly.

They would be out in abundance, there to light up our warm summer evenings.

By the hundreds they seemed to come. Maybe the thousands.

Flitting here.

Darting there.

Flying here.

Zipping there.

Catch me if you can.

Lightnin’ bugs all about.

They would be there to delight.




Twinkle. Twinkle. Twinkle.

See that bunch there? All those over there?

We would race to catch them and, when we did, we would form a cup with our hands and enclose some of them and then open our hands a little and peek inside and marvel at their glow, their brightness.

Such fun.

Such summertime warm evening fun.

Then we’d let them go.

We would put one or two or three atop a hand and wave the hand through the air and watch them stay affixed to where we had placed them without falling off. How do they do that?

Then we’d watch the trail of light that stretched out behind them.

Eventually, we’d stop and watch them zip away.

Sometimes, we would put them in a jar. With an ice pick, we would punch holes in the jar lid to give them air, then watch their bright, collective glow inside.

Something of a no-cost homemade lantern.

Later, we would release them.

Next night — when we and they again came out to play– they were there to refuel our homemade lantern.

There to shine, shine, shine.

Glow, glow, glow.

Surely the brilliance of our homemade lantern idea was matched only by the bright, warm glow of the seemingly happy little bugs inside.

Ah, fond memories.

Warm summer nights, weeks, months, years, decades came and went.

More and more and more and more people came to share the space where we and the lightnin’ bugs once came out to play.

But more and more there were fewer and fewer lightnin’ bugs.

As people – with their increasingly inventive, multiplying, toxic ways – came, the lightning bugs went away.

More people, fewer lightnin’ bugs.

Until, eventually, there seemed to be no lightnin’ bugs at all.

No lightnin’ bugs to come out and play, to twinkle, to excite, to bring magic.

So fewer and fewer and fewer homemade lanterns.

And fewer and fewer and fewer fond memories.

But, alas, mankind is ingenious.

Child’s play, you might say.

The postman comes and brings a catalog and therein is a product surely designed to thrill any child of any age – a jar “lantern” with an array of LED lights inside to mimic those delightful glow worms of our day, our childhood. Just insert the batteries and, Shazam, you have your jar of fireflies. An instant, magical, childhood  lightnin’ bug “lantern.”

Just $20 or thereabouts is all it costs. More money, probably, than the three of us collectively saw in our entire childhood.

Surely these mail-order lanterns are well worth the money, for think, think, just think of the many merry moments one of them will bring any youngster.

And, listed in a second catalog that arrived the next day, at something approaching twice the price of the first, is another, surely better LED light “lantern,” one that no doubt will make its proud child owner the envy of all the other kids.

Playtime one-upmanship. My lantern is brighter than your lantern. Ha, ha, ha.

Either one, we suppose, is the perfect, unusual gift to thrill, to entertain, to bring magic.

What kid wouldn’t want one?

For, really, what kid wants or needs to be outside on a warm summer’s evening in search of real, live, entertaining lightnin’ bugs that no longer are around to come out and play?

Ah, the store-bought, credit card-enabled, Fed-X-delivered, always lit lightnin’ bug lantern with its special, man-made glow.

Ah, such sweet, fake, illuminating memories.

(Roger Summers is a journalist and essayist who spends time in Texas, New Mexico, England and a world of curiosity and creativity. He can be reached at



, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related Posts