Wednesdays are one of the two days each week on which I trek into Richmond to return to my old world of ballet. My classes begin at 1:30 and end at 6:30, so if I am lucky (and expedient) I am back in the car and on the road home by 6:45. The drive is about an hour one way. With the days growing shorter, this means that I arrive home a little after dark, and once we move out to the farm, it also means that I will be walking about a half mile in the dark to get back to the house.
In the meantime, I stop by the farm on Wednesday evenings to pick up the rest of my family. There was no one waiting for me at the parking area tonight when I pulled in, so I got out of the car and began the walk, knowing I would meet them about half way.
I grabbed an old crank flashlight out of the glove compartment and began turning the handle to generate the energy to light up the path. The cranking noise was rather obnoxious, and when after about ten seconds of cranking I could only generate a dim light, I lost patience. I started walking, carefully picking my way down the hill, trying to determine where I could safely step without twisting my ankles. I still carried the flashlight, turning it on from time to time in hopes that an additional second or two of cranking might yield enough light to illuminate my surrounding. No such luck.
Walking in the dark is an adventure, though, and is best experienced without the aid of additional light. Without artificial light, sounds were vividly amplified, with every detail fueling the shadowy images in front of my eyes. The bushes rustled as some creature bounded away. While my common sense told me it was a deer, I briefly looked back expecting to see a bear running after me. Crickets led the cacophony of rhythms with their pulsating chant. Frogs sang in the creek bottom.
As I was trying to sort out these sounds, a brief glimmer in the grass caught my eye. At first I thought I was seeing things. My eyes were adjusting to the dark, and perhaps this was some peculiar manifestation of this adjustment. Another glimmer caught my eye- it was just dim enough to be a reflection of the flashlight in a drop of water, perhaps. I tested my theory but the light from the flashlight barely reached the ground. I saw another glimmer, and then another, and then another, and I decided that these were late season fireflies, too old to fly and now sending their signals from the grass.
I stood there for a few seconds, and as my eyes adjusted to the dark, these glimmering beings increased. A brief, gentle glow would bloom before slowly fading. Some were brighter than others, some longer than others. An emerald glimmer would appear, fade and then another would appear right next to the first, hanging in the air just above the ground. They looked like twinkling stars.
After a few minutes, I heard the voices of my family coming up the road, and I pointed to the gentle, shining glimmers. Equipped with a real, fully-functioning flashlight, we revealed the source of the magic: glow-worms. Small- maybe an inch long at the most- nocturnal caterpillar-like creatures. And all this time, I thought glow-worms lived only in song… “Glow, little glow-worm, glimmer, glimmer….”