World of wonders : in praise of fireflies, whale sharks, and other astonishments /

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Nezhukumatathil, Aimee, author.
Edition:First edition.
Imprint:Minneapolis, Minnesota : Milkweed Editions, [2020]
Description:165 pages : color illustrations ; 23 cm
Subject:Animals -- Anecdotes.
Format: Print Book
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Hidden Bibliographic Details
Other authors / contributors:Nakamura, Fumi Mini, illustrator.
Summary:"From beloved, award-winning poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil comes a debut work of nonfiction--a collection of essays about the natural world, and the way its inhabitants can teach, support, and inspire us"--
Other form:Online version: Nezhukumatathil, Aimee, World of wonders Minneapolis : Milkweed Editions, 2020. 9781571319593

FIREFLY Photinus pyralis When the first glimmer-pop of firefly light appears on a summer night, I always want to call my mother just to say hello. The bibliography of the firefly is a tender and electric dress, a small flame sputtering in the ditches along a highway, and the elytra covering the hind wings of the firefly lift like a light leather, suppler than any other beetle's. In flight, it is like a loud laugh, the kind that only appears in summer, with the stink of meats sizzling somewhere down the street and the mouths of neighborhood children stained with popsicle juice and hinging open with the excitement of a ball game or tag. I used to see fireflies as we drove home from family vacations, back to rural western New York. My father loved to commute through the night, to avoid the summer glare and heat. My sister and I would be wrapped in blankets, separated by a giant ice chest in the back seat, and I'd fall in and out of a sleep made all the more delicious by hearing the pleasant murmurings of my parents in the front. Sometimes I tried to listen, but looking out the car window, I'd always get distracted by the erratic flashes of light blurring past us. For a couple of weeks every June, in the Great Smoky Mountains, the only species of synchronous firefly in North America converges for a flashy display. Years ago, my family stopped in this area during one of our epic road trips. My father knew to park our car away from the side of an impossibly verdant hill that plunged into a wide valley full of trillium, pin cherry, and hobblebush. He knew to cover our one flashlight with a red bag, so as not to disturb the fireflies, and to only point it at the ground as he led his wife and semi-aloof teenage daughters through the navy blue pause just moments after twilight. I confess, at first I wanted to be back in the air-conditioned hotel room--anywhere but on an isolated gravel path with the odd bullfrog clamor interrupting the dark. But now I think of my sister and I scattered in different homes now as adults and am so grateful for all of those family vacations where we could be outdoors together, walking this earth. My mother's temper was always frazzled by vacation's end, but I know each day off from work and spent with her family was something sweet and rare. How I crave those slow vacation days and even slower nights, her taking her time to select our frilled nightclothes, to laugh about the day's sightseeing and the cheap trinkets I'd bought. She'd pull a coverlet to my chin. Her gorgeous, dark wavy hair tickled when she leaned over to kiss me good-night, smelling of Oil of Olay and spearmint gum. Only on those trips would I know such a degree of tenderness, the quiet reassurances a mother can give a daughter, while she stroked my bangs to the side of my face. No rush in the mornings to get me and my sister shuffled onto a school bus and herself off to work. When my mother is no longer here, I know I will cling to that lovely fragrance of mint and a moisturizer I'll always associate with beauty and love. I will cling to those summer nights we raced--and yet didn't race--home. I will try to bang myself back to that Oldsmobile like the lacewings that argue nightly with my porch light bulb, to what was my small family then, not even big enough to call a swarm: one sister, two parents. I grew up near scientists who worked with indigo buntings. There is no other blue like that of these birds, no feather more electric. They navigate by following the North Star, and these scientists were trying to trick them into following a false star in a darkened room. But most of them don't fall for the ruse. When released, they find their way home the same as always. The buntings know the North Star by heart, learn to look for it in their first summer of life, storing this knowledge to use years later when they first learn to migrate. How they must have spent hours gazing at the star during those nestling nights, peeking out from under their mother. What shines so strong holds them steady. Where the buntings remain steadfast, fireflies are more easily deceived. They lose their light rhythm for a few minutes after a single car's headlights pass. Sometimes it takes hours for them to recalibrate their blinking patterns. What gets lost in the radio silence? What connections are translated incorrectly or missed entirely? Porch lights, trucks, buildings, and the harsh glow of streetlamps all complicate matters and discourage fireflies from sending out their love-light signals--meaning fewer firefly larvae are born the next year. Scientists can't agree on how or why these fireflies achieve synchronicity. Perhaps it is a competition between males, who all want to be the first to send their signals across the valleys and manna grass. Perhaps if they all flash at once, the females can better determine whose glow is most radiant. Whatever the reason--and in spite of, or rather, because of, all the guided tours that now pop up in the Smokies--fireflies don't glow in sync all night long anymore. The patterns sometimes occur in short flashes, then abruptly end in haunting periods of darkness. The fireflies are still out there, but they fly or rest on grass blades in visual silence. Perhaps a visitor forgot to dim a flashlight or left their car lights on for too long, and this is the firefly's protest. Firefly eggs and larvae are bioluminescent, and the larvae themselves hunt for prey. They can detect a slime trail from a slug or snail and follow it all the way to the juicy, unsuspecting source. Whole groups of larvae have been known to track relatively large prey, such as an earthworm--like a macabre, candlelit chase right out of an old B-movie, to the edge of a soupy pond, the larvae pulsing light as they devour a still-wriggling worm. Some firefly larvae live completely underwater, their lights fevering just under the surface as they capture and devour aquatic snails. For a beetle, fireflies live long and full lives--around two years--though most of it is spent underground, gloriously eating and sleeping to their heart's content. When we see these beacons flashing their lights, they usually have only one or two weeks left to live. Learning this as a child--I could often be found walking slowly around untrimmed lawns, stalling and not quite ready to go inside for dinner--made me melancholy, even in the face of their brilliance. I couldn't believe something so full of light would be gone so soon. I know I will search for fireflies all the rest of my days, even though they dwindle a little more each year. I can't help it. They blink on and off, a lime glow to the summer night air, as if to say: I am still here, you are still here, I am still here, you are still here, I am, you are , over and over again. Perhaps I can will it to be true. Perhaps I can keep those summer nights with my family inside an empty jam jar, with holes poked in the lid, a twig and a few strands of grass tucked inside. And for those unimaginable nights in the future, when I know I'll miss my mother the most--I will let that jar's sweet glow serve as a night-light to cool and cut the air for me. Excerpted from World of Wonder: Essays by Aimee Nezhukumatathil All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.