It occurred to me all of a sudden that I wasn’t going to last outside all night. My husband was feeding a fire with branches he found on the ground. Our son shadowed him, really getting into it. I had been hiding inside the tent from the constant assault of flying insects since we got to the campsite.
Reality began to settle in the very way I could not atop three feeble layers of nylon and down that cushioned the ground upon which I was lying. I got grouchy. I won’t make any fans of the naturalists with this confession…
I knew I wanted to go home (probably ten minutes after my husband had already figured it out.)
“Have you ever heard of Ralph Waldo Emmerson,” my husband said, totally shaming me…breaking branches over his knees…in his element. I have a beautiful poster containing this quote in our daughter’s bedroom:
Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air –Ralph Waldo Emmerson
We had roasted hot dogs and toasted marshmallows on real sticks. We saw a frog. Had we not lived deep and sucked the marrow out of life, yet? When my beloved Thoreau hiked out to Walden Pond, I hope he had packed a healthy supply of citronella candles.
I love nature. I just don’t want to sleep in it. Try me again when autumn comes.
I really wanted to be a positive example to my daughter. My son was already in love with the experience, having unbuttoned his collared plaid shirt and rubbed himself with ash from the burned wood. He was running perfectly amok in the pines like one of Peter Pan’s lost boys.
The girl would not be persuaded. She saw her mother giving up. She started giving up. Heavy. So, I was determined to stay (hoping it wouldn’t make us all miserable.)
The sun had set. We followed the beams from our flashlights down the dirt path to the camp bathrooms. Headlights burned through the sylvan curtain of forest growth. A truck engine hummed. We were still the only campers at the Longleaf Campground. The park ranger at the wheel saw a glum version of the family he had greeted in the daytime. “The parking lot is filling up fast,” he said.
Wait a minute, we thought. Hadn’t we just been poking the mesh window inside our tent with excitement as we counted fireflies? There were so many.
He explained that the synchronous wonder we were here to see was actually happening at another location within the park. We would have to drive to the visitor center.
With the push of a button, we had all the cold air we wanted, and familiar music on the stereo. Our spirits lifted!
The parking lot was full. A lighted path led us onto the wooden boardwalk by the visitor’s center where we joined an assembly of people in the dark. A respectful murmur of voices. A fizzly green light here and there in the trees.
We went deeper into the crowd, looking for open spots against the wood railing. A cell phone screen would light the path occasionally. Several photographers had tripods set up for long exposures. Everyone seemed eager to preserve the peace, to share the wonder. A synchronized display of blinking natural light surrounded us.
“It doesn’t look like fireflies,” my daughter remarked.
“What does it look like?” I asked.
We fell silent, enchanted by the green flashes of light all around.
There is something so nostalgic about fireflies, something so harmonious with childhood. My favorite photo of this is Keith Carter’s Fireflies.
“Fireflies in the Garden
By Robert Frost 1874–1963
Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.”
― Robert Frost, The Poetry of Robert Frost
Our fate was sealed once we blasted the air conditioning in the car. We were ruined for the hot night ahead. We were going home, redeemed though, because we saw what we came for and we tried something new.
I really believed I was camping for a couple hours and that is indeed something. So, I can’t be an example of rugged resolve. I will let my kids know that some changes happen gradually and, if you want to take mommy camping, you should probably bring an air mattress.
*From Wikipedia: “In the United States, one of the most famous sightings of fireflies blinking in unison occurs annually near Elkmont, Tennessee in the Great Smokey Mountains during the first weeks of June. Congaree National Park in South Carolina is another host to this phenomenon.”