Goose Creek Avatar

If you take a moment this week to stand outside after full dark, you cannot help but be amazed at the dazzling light of the fireflies.

It is the closest thing to a scene from Avatar you might ever experience–and you should. So make a point to find a comfortable hillside above woods or pasture, and take it in.

I have written about this experience more than once, and the writing–like the snap of a camera shutter–helps me revisit the experience in seasons where there is not so much warmth or light and days are short.

So I offer you “Firefly Ballet” repost, and a bonus: the audio below was the final essay I recorded at WVTF in 2010. The cricket chirps in the intro background are bona fide Goose Creek Crickets who wanted to be part of the show.

[su_audio url=”″ width=”300px”]

[su_quote]Astonished, I watch this ascension of souls–an ineffable beauty of uplifting dance, a choreography of nature’s art. I watch in awe, these performers, hardwired to follow an ancient dance, born in each, lifted into the air each summer night by all together, a performance for my sake alone. And I am smitten, speechless and smile through tears.[/su_quote]

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. It was ten years ago this month that I had the great good fortune to be staying on Nettles Knob in Watauga County, NC. Walking out onto the road in front of the cabin we were staying in one night that week I stepped into wonderland… Synchronized fireflies were putting on a show up and down the road that night.

    There must have been millions on that almost deserted road that night. The wave of light would start down the mountain around the curve and sweep up the road bank passing me and running out of sight around the next bend. Each wave would take just a few seconds to run the entire distance… Then it would repeat.

    I managed to drag my wife outside… But the kids couldn’t be bothered. But then, they didn’t grow up chasing fireflies. By the time they were old enough to wonder, most of the lightning bugs had been killed off in our war against the mosquitoes in our neck of the woods…

  2. Gary, your experience is amazing. I grew up in Knoxville, TN and enjoyed catching fireflies at twilight many times, but I never noticed any synchronicity in my big back yard. Fred, tell us about the image with this entry: is it fireflies you were able to photograph, or some other art form?

  3. I miss the fireflies or lightning bugs as we grew up calling them! They are far and few in between here. Construction, chemical sprays and pollution in general have just about decimated them. I am fortunate to find a dozen or so if I venture back to the creek bed. Enjoy your fireflies and, by all means, tell them that this bayou girl sure misses them!

  4. Thanks for asking about the image, Kathy. I was tempted to say something about that, but had already exceeded the blogger attention span. This was actually a summer image in the late afternoon, the sun making dazzling specks of rising gnats just hatched from the creek.

    It was about as close as I can come to photographing glowing insects, except that the sun is far more illuminating than the bioluminescent glow of fireflies. Photos of fireflies, I think, is beyond my camera, even on a tripod with a very long exposure–though I have not given up on that notion.