Monday, July 22, 2013

Friends and Fireflies by Leah St. James

I’ve been married for about a hundred years to a man who hates going to see the fireworks. My sons for some reason never took to them either, so ever since they got to the age where they could beg off the annual fireworks show, I’ve consigned myself to watching them on TV. Watching on TV is a pale second though. You can’t feel the big boom when the explosive charge goes off, can’t smell the sulfur in the air, hear the oohs and aahs of the people to your right and left. Still, I’m accustomed to what has become our annual celebration.

That changed this year, however. Sort of. I didn’t see fireworks on the 4th of July, I saw them on the last weekend in June. I’d driven from my home in southeastern Virginia to a writers’ retreat called The Porches about three hours west. The inn is an antebellum six-bedroom farmhouse converted by writers, for writers, where the house rules call for quiet all day, and socializing is permitted only after 5:30 in the evening. The two levels of porches overlooking the Appalachian mountains give the home its name. I was joining four writing buddies for a weekend of peace, quiet, friendship and writing. Heaven, right?

When you travel to The Porches, you bring your own food, and luckily for me, some of my friends are really good cooks. (To say I ate well doesn’t do justice to the increase in my girth after the weekend.) One friend is a bartender who’d arrived with a case of wines and liqueurs with pretty labels and exotic-sounding names. (I did say this was a writer’s version of heaven.)

Being that we’re all friends, we bagged the “no socializing till 5:30”rule that first night and hunkered down for some serious girl talk. We lingered over dinner, which was served on the first-floor porch, and watched hummingbirds hover at the birdfeeder, sipping their own dinner. When the mosquitoes started to bite, we headed to the second-floor porch and its view of the surrounding mountains.

Wine was poured, talk and laughter  ebbed and flowed, and aside from our conversation, all was quiet, except for the sounds of nature. We heard birdcall (including an honest-to-God Whippoorwill!), frogs doing their mating thing, and the lonesome clacking of a nearby freight train passing by. As giant birds that might have been eagles soared over the trees, I squelched the urge to burst out into a chorus or two of "God Bless America." :-)

Eventually night fell, and with the darkening sky came lightning bugs, or fireflies. I say “lightning bugs” as if they were the same creatures I  used to run around and chase in my backyard in Central Jersey. We’d catch them in jars with holes punched in the lids, and watch them light up for a while before releasing them back to nature.

Those were Jersey lightning bugs. What I saw at The Porches was a whole different species. 

Their show started out slowly, subtly. A flash here and there. “Oh, look, lightning bugs,” one of the ladies said, and we all paused to watch. Then it built – the intensity, the number – and pretty soon the air around us filled with lights, twinkling on and off, high up in the trees that stretched for another fifty feet or more above us. At one point, those tiny little insects lit up so big and bright, they looked like golf balls flitting playfully among the branches. 

They didn’t shake the ground with the force of an explosion, and they didn’t release the scent of sulfur into the sky, but those lightning bugs put on a show worthy of 4th of July fireworks. And as I sat there, sipping my wine, listening to the quiet oohs and aahs of friends, I thanked God for the opportunity to share that memory. 

God bless America, and lightning bugs.


Margo Hoornstra said...

Beautiful place. What a great way to recharge. Nature does a put on a pretty good show, doesn't't she? Lucky you.

Jannine Gallant said...

Wow, I can picture every word of it. Thanks for sharing, Leah. No disrespect intended, but your retreat sounds way better than a conference in a big city hotel!

Alison Henderson said...

What a perfect retreat! I haven't seen lightning bugs for years, and I miss them. I hope you do this every year.

Diane Burton said...

What a great retreat. I love my chapter's retreat--laid back, casual, lots of talk & some learning, too. How wonderful you got to enjoy such a lovely venue.

Leah St. James said...

Thanks, ladies, for stopping by. I agree, Jannine, I think I got more out of it than some of the conferences I've attended. I hope I do get to do this every year. Even better would be a whole week!