Apr 22, 2008

Star Light, Star Bright

I thought for just a moment tonight that I was hallucinating.

I've been a bachelor now for eleven days. Not permanently, just while Mrs. I took Belle (and Penny, the donkey to our racehorse) to the Borzoi Nationals in Sacramento, CA. I've not had a real meal since she left, have been working far too hard and in general have probably let myself slip pretty badly. In other words, it's been fun.

While she was gone I took on the chicken-keeping duties: mornings I trudge out at dawn, Umquayquay trotting gamely along with me to open the little chicken door within the big people door. I check food and water levels, and when necessary I swap the side of the yard they'll spend the day in. I open up the three big shutters so the fresh air can blow through, and I tromp back to the house for breakfast, Quay following happily along, or roaming ahead of me cheerfully, her whip-thin tail swinging wildly.

In the evenings after I've been home for a little bit I go back out, telling Quay "Come on, let's go do Chickens." She gets excited and we go walking back to the coop. I open the big door, let myself in to carefully gather the eggs, and gather up and toss the broody hen outside so she'll eat something and drink a little. On the way back home I stop at the place where the two extension cords meet and I plug them back together, turning on the little coop light so they can find their way back to the roost, and I head back home with the day's bounty in a tan wicker basket. Some are still warm from lying under feathered breasts, and they're all speckled and different shades of tan.

When darkness has fallen good I go back out for the last time, to close up and latch the shutters and to secure the little door in the big door. I resecure the gate behind me, take one more glance at the feeder and the big water dispenser, and I head back for bed.

Tonight was a little different. Darkness fell fast tonight, the almost-full moon obscured by thick clouds. Light from the airport coloured the cloud bottoms soft pinks and greens, and the moonlight filtered through, giving everything a milky wash. The warm south wind was still blowing softly, promising the heat of summer in just a little while, but not just yet. I could hear the soft cooing and clucking of the birds settling in, and the rustles and clucks as they heard me approach, unlatch the gate, secure their little door and close the gate behind me again. I lowered the shutters, talking to them softly like I always do. "Goodnight, ladies." I don't know why I say it, I just do. Perhaps it calms them, perhaps it calms me. Quay was underfoot as always, trotting around, making sure no raccoon had sidled past her in the dusk.

I'd turned to head back when a tiny flash in the corner of my eye stopped me. I twisted around, looked out across the dark field and the darker treeline on the bayou and saw nothing but light pollution from the airport and the distant lights of porches and garages from the few houses back on the bayou. Then I saw it again. A tiny, fast-moving golden flash, a short Morse Code dash in the dark, then nothing. A lightning bug, blown here by the winds from some other place.

The insecticide the farmers use around here doesn't discriminate, it kills everything small and many-legged, an equal-opportunity slayer. Dragonflies, moths, pests and non-pests alike fall to it's vapors. The lightning bugs seem most susceptible to it's effects, some horrible trick of their genetics. I can't ever remember seeing many around, and as the years have progressed away from my childhood they seem rarer and rarer.

When I was very little I can remember July nights at my grandparent's house in Mississippi, running in the big open side yard, leaping and laughing and catching at what seemed like thousands of them. The light from their numbers was so bright it filled the air with a lambent golden glow, as though someone were holding a sparkler far above our heads and letting the tiny embers fall upon our upturned faces. They poured out of the forest that surrounded the house like elves come to steal away our infant children, their tiny torches blinking and flickering in the darkness. No matter where you looked there were points and dashes and lines of gold light moving, dancing, a faerie ring in the air, a mandala whose shape never held still, whose patterns changed like water. I was always let down to return home to our own dark skies, untouched as it was by the infinitesimal will-o'-the-wisps.

Tonight I saw that tiny flash once, twice, then nothing. Darkness, a soft white haze of moonlight on dark fields and quiet trees then. Warm breeze stirring, and the soft noises of the hens settling in. Quay didn't understand why I was standing there, stock still and not heading back toward the house: I was breaking the routine, this wasn't right. There I stood, like a child who has lost their red balloon, their hand suddenly empty of the thin white string. Heat lightning flickered far away in the clouds, drawing my eye, but no bug could make fire like that. A far-off airplane droned it's winking way across the heavens, making me think for a moment that perhaps it was the firefly, but no, it was mechanically uniform, flashing it's hundred thousand candlepower beam out across the miles between us.

I turned and followed Quay back to the house, wondering if I'd really seen it.


Maggie said...

Oh I love that little flicker of light. First time I witnessed it I was visiting at my cousins and grandparents in Oklahoma where they all occupied the same land. Back then that place was in the boondocks, and the fireflies were like party lights. I can still smell the dry Oklahoma dust at night after the sun and the humidity let it alone. Here in our backyard, we have the same bugs. Only less of them. But our summer nights seem so magical when they come out to play.

Mother of Invention said...

Or maybe the ChickenSittin' been too hard on ya!!??

They are rather extraordinary, aren't they? And impossible to describe to someone who hasn't seen them.

Gordo said...

You have quite the way with words, my friend. Beautiful.

I remember catching a mason jar full of fireflies as a kid camping and lying in the tent watching them for what seemed like all night. Fascinating little creatures. I always remembered to let them go, too. We hardly see them any more: one or two, once in a blue moon. I miss them.

meno said...

Last summer when i was in DC, i'm sure i puzzled our hosts by getting all excited about seeing fire flies and dragging Em away from the TV so she could see them too.

Something about them is magic.

Clowncar said...

Magic says it all.

I used to see them (and catch them) all the time growing up in Iowa, but haven't seen one for years. Don't know if they're still about in Iowa, but there sure aren't any here. There are a TON of pesticides being dumped on Iowa by corportate farms, so maybe they're disappearing from there as well.

And as well written as that post was (the "when I was very little" para is so good), the thing that sticks is that you say "Goodnight, ladies" to the birds. Aaawww. Too damn cute.

Joan of Argghh! said...

I love the unexpected moments that make us young again. Next to some long-lost scent of a memory, those little lightning bugs conjure up a world of sweet and young memories.

Thanks for this loveliness!

Mona Buonanotte said...

Damn this was beautiful! You have me all wistful for summer nights. And chickens. Shouldn't you serenade those chickens with "good night, ladies" in a barbershop quartet sort of way?

Rayne said...

This post has brought back so many memories. We had chickens when I was growing up and their care was my job. Winters were the worst, going out in the morning and unhooking their waterers from the ceiling wires and bringing them into the house to melt the ice in the tub, refill them, bring them out and rehang them. Feed them. Let them out if it wasn't too cold. Collect the morning eggs. Go back in and scrub the tub. Check for eggs after school, and before bed before closing them up.
I had really thought that I didn't like them all that much, and I resented them, but I remember when I became older and was working after school and didn't get home until 10 or 11 at night and I would find that no one had shut them up safe for the night. We had bobcats, raccoons, skunks, etc. After that it was the first thing I did when I got home, check the chickens and make sure they were safe and locked up.
We are fortunate here, the fireflies put on a beautiful show at dusk in the spring evenings. So many of them! I love sitting on the deck and watching them, or catching one in my hand and seeing it's light shine through my fingers before letting him go.

Irrelephant said...

Magge, they're extraordinary things aren't they? And they're just bugs...makes me feel like we as hairless pink monkeys ought to be a lot more magical. *smile*

Mom, they ARE tough! All that trudging, the sharp beaks, the beady-eyed stares...

Thank you, Gordo. Seems like suffering brings out the writer in me. I never could catch more than two or three, but oh the trying. THAT was the best part.

meno, I'm glad there's still enough kid in you that you get excited over glowing bugs. *smile* That says a lot for you, in my book.

Clowncar, I know all the chemical and biological tricks they use, but yes, "magic" sums it up perfectly for me. And you know, I laugh too over talking to them, and I know full well they're not THAT smart, but they are smart, and they do listen.

When I talk to them in the evenings, especially when I close the shutter closest their perch I'll speak to them and every one will get quiet, cock their heads over to watch me and look for all the world like they're paying rapt and utter attention to me. It's quite the feeling. *s*

Joan, you are quite welcome. I'm glad I could touch a chord in you with it. I try to hang on to those moments as tightly as I can. The writing helps; I can go back and smile over them again and again.

*lol* Mona, to do that they're have to be four of me, and there's not room in THIS chicken coop for more than one rooster. *wink*

Rayne, it's funny how the things we 'hated' as kids turn into some of our pleasures. I used to hate weeding and working in the garden with my father, but now my garden is one of my greatest joys, and most effective therapies.

You talking about holding them makes me think of holding carpenter bumblebees in my cupped hands and listening to that heady buzz. *S*

Nancy Dancehall said...

That was beautiful. I go away for a while and you write something like this. Damn! *s*

I grew up with lightning bugs. We don't have them in Colorado, as Clowncar mentioned. One year though, a wealthy Japanese businessman was homesick for them, so he imported thousands of them and had them released in Wash Park. For one summer, fireflies twinkled in the park. And then came fall and winter, and then in the Spring ...they didn't come back. They were gone.

One more reason to hate this place. But I digress.

Jean said...

Ohio seemed like lightning bug heaven when I was a kid. Can't remember ever seeing even one in Florida. I miss them.
A beautiful piece, here. Thank you.

Vulgar Wizard said...

I have a yard FULL of these things . . . come sit on our deck and watch them as long as you want.

Batgirl said...

I remember the very first time I saw fireflies. I was in boot camp and suddenly saw all these tiny flashing lights in the woods. I thought I was hallucinating. I was 18 at the time, and sincerely had no idea that fire flies were real. I thought they were some imaginery bug. It was quite amusing to everyone that was in earshot of me. I wish we had them in California.

Irrelephant said...

Nancy, my previous comment seems to have been erased. Grrrrrrrr. That's a neat story...gods I wish we had people like that down here.

Jean, they seem to becoming more and more...shy? Few? It saddens me.

VW, I'm gonna have to take you up on that offer, no doubt about it.

BG, welcome back! I was wondering if the catering business had swallowed you whole! I didn't know they aren't in Cali...very surprising, I'd think the weather there would be just right for them.