Glow worms are as real as squirrels. And all this time I thought they were like unicorns or mermaids. I was by the river, crunching around in the dark with a lantern in one hand. I turned it off to see the stars, and instead, the glow worms called. I saw fewer stars there, out in the wilderness at midnight, than I did last weekend on the highway between two big towns. It was overcast. It made me look for something else.
We had been feasting around a fire, as people do on holiday. It was hot enough that our ceremonial fire was a citronella candle, stuck in a beer bottle full of pebbles for ballast. The campfire was an auxiliary site. I had appeared at this event oddly unprepared as usual, with graham crackers and marshmallows and Hershey bars, but begging for a plate, a drink, wet wipes. Others were glad to oblige.
For one moment, as it got dark, I felt a ghost surge of panic in my brain, panic muffled by my medicine. Darkness! We’re in trouble! I sat it out, and it regressed. Having my brain slightly miswired has shown me what cavemen felt like. Or cavewomen, I guess. Something about the transition to darkness alerts those same circuits that were set when some caveman got lost in a cave, or heard the sniffing and grunting of a large animal looking for dinner in the night.
Along the river, just a wee stream there, we stood on a bank of gravel, looking up in disappointment, until I was looking down in awe. The ground sparkled. Fireflies in the earth, mica of the darkness. “What are those?” I asked. I was told. They went on and off, taking turns, calling to each other. “I guess it’s a sex thing, huh? They are looking for someone to make out with.”
“Most appearance characteristics are about reproduction,” my friend said, with incredible precision considering the hour.
“Right,” I said.
Squirrels amaze and delight me. They’re everywhere here, as common as dandelions. They scamper, carry food in their mouths, defy gravity. Glow worms are common, too, and amazing. Animals who have conquered darkness. They live in the same family as fireflies, as electric eels. They don’t just work in the darkness, like owls, they beat it. They make light from the inside out.
My friend said, “I”ll show you one.” He found a glow, waited a beat, and then turned a flashlight onto the spot. “Here. “ He pointed. A glow worm is black as coal, and a little longer than a roly-poly. It is darkness, it absorbs all color like a vaccum, and it makes light. “He won’t glow for a little while now,” my friend said. “He’ll lay low.”
We stood around a little longer. I wandered off for the great pleasure of peeing alone in the fresh air. My mind had adjusted to the darkness, and it felt protective. When I came back, my friends were rattling on, laughing, and the glow worms were still making light, cooing to one another, saying back and forth, I am here, I am here, I am here.