When I was a young fellow, I lived in a fine house on a gentle hillside in Pennsylvania. We had a barn, about a hundred feet away, which had an upstairs, where we parked the car; a loft, where we kept some ducks; and on the reverse side of the barn, downhill, an entrance to its basement, as it were, where we kept various things such as the lawnmower, the odd length of lumber and so forth. In between the house and the barn was gentle hillside, carefully mowed, bordered with forsythia and pussy-willow, which flattened out into a 3/4 acre lawn. Altogether a lovely and pastoral place to grow up.

One summer evening, my mother asked me to fetch something from the bottom of the barn. It may have been a gallon of paint; I vaguely remember something like that. Anyway, I shook my head emphatically, no! I was young enough, or she was gentle-hearted enough, so that the response wasn’t getting boxed about the ears (which, IMHO, would have been the right response) but instead, an inquiry as to why not.

I told her, earnestly: “I might get struck by lightning bugs!”

She laughed, and to tell the truth, I don’t know if she made me complete that errand, or not. What I do know is that it cemented my memory of those little flashers — and her merry laugh — permanently.

That house — and the yard, and the hillside — is still (barely) under my family’s control. The federal government took it in a land grab for the Tock’s Island dam project, a project they failed to complete, although they certainly ruined a lot of people’s lives and homes in the process. But my mother, being pretty darned sharp, negotiated a deal with the feds that she could stay there, and the house around her, until or unless the water actually was going to rise. She guessed right, and that never happened.

So I have occasion to visit the place. One of the things that saddens me when I visit is that the fireflies (lightning bugs) are gone. Where once they turned the yard into an amazing display that looked like a thousand fairies dancing, now there is just darkness.

The town (Milford, Pennsylvania) has grown into an over-crowded, over-taxed, over-illuminated tourist trap. I suspect that has something to do with it. Perhaps the overuse of insecticides played a part as well. All I know for sure, though, is that place is significantly diminished by the lack of fireflies.

At least I have my memories. Not so much for kids who grow up in the area now.

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