I saw the first lone glittering light just after dark one evening last week, but the nights are still cool, going down to the low 40s. Still, I know the Night of the Fairies must be close; a few seasonably warm days and nights is all it will take. I will watch each night.
(Above) Rockwell Kent's illustration of Titania, from A Midsummer Night's Dream for The Complete Works of Shakespeare, the Cambridge Edition Text, 1936
I first saw this phenomenon in 1999, I think. It was astonishing. This event happens each year sometime after the spring equinox depending on how early we begin to get warm days and nights. Late March and early April days and nights in the lower South can come as a surprise. They whisper a promise just as winter is dying. Most of us gardeners end up planting our flowers too early in still cold soil, and they end up damaged or dead from the last inevitable cold spell.
This night was in early April, when the days warm up and linger for just a while into the night, nights for a fire in the patio fire pit, for wrapping up in a shawl, and for just sitting. This night I could barely see at the edge of the woods the silhouetted trees’ new growth. Spring would come.
My eyes on the wood’s growing darkness, dusk turned into early evening. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the darkness was transformed with small, twinkling lights rising in unison up from the earth.
A million glittering stars against a dark sky. A Fairy Woodland come to life. Shakespeare’s Titania and Oberon waking in spring before their midsummer night’s dream. Thumbelina. Tinkerbelle. Fairies from the children’s books my grandmother read to me. A spectacle of diamonds and crystals.
(Left) Thumbelina's lily-leaf raft. Engraving from Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, 1872
As the glittering mass rose up from the wood’s bed of moist leaves, they began to float away from each other, some higher and higher, some drifting into the backyards of the surrounding houses, some toward the patio. They magically became fireflies for the upcoming summer.
“It must be the night they rise from hibernation,” I said out loud to no one. I stood transfixed.
The cold air caught my attention and I moved closer to the fire.
The fireflies continued this fantastical ritual for some nights to come, but as spring became early summer, they emerged from this place in fewer and fewer numbers. They simply appeared in the summer nights.
I wondered that night if this performance was some kind of gift or sign, never to return again, like a rainbow’s pot of gold.
Each year I have waited for this Night of the Fairies. It has returned year after year. It could happen tonight or tomorrow night.
(Left) Available from the Web
But this special gift also brings some sadness. Several years after this first event, I asked my daughter to watch for it with me. It happened. I thought this kind of beauty could add something to my daughter’s dismal existence that was dominated by her addictions to drugs. She watched in what I thought was a sense of wonder.
“Oh, man,” she said. “This is cool. It’s like being on LSD.”
I think that night was my first intimation that my daughter’s kind of addiction is a lot bigger than herself and me and her father all put together. By then it seemed that the addictions were also bigger than treatment programs.
Unfortunately, that fear has been borne out.
Anyway, I will be watching the woods for the next several nights, waiting for this annual gift. I look forward to showing it to my granddaughter, Joanna Leigh.