This Thing Called Courage

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Of Fireflies and Walkmans

Ah well-- it must be summer, as tonight I saw the first fireflies of the season, flitting around my back yard. And still and always, how can they be perceived as anything other than magic? There is, of course, an explanation for almost everything-- and yet don't we all sense a mystery, hidden within almost all things, that we can never truly know, only-- sniff, as it were? Fireflies to me seem to embody that. I wouldn't have seen them tonight if my brother Bob and his wife Missy hadn't very kindly sent me a lovely pair of Walkmans for my birthday-- my previous pair broke a year ago and, besides, the volume on that pair never went up very high, which is unfortunate as I'm rather hard of hearing. But these new boys go a-way up, which we love. I've been using them ever since. I do of course prefer to think sometimes while I walk, or to hear the sounds of nature, when I'm in or near the woods. But walking along the Fellsway, as we do more often than not, the roar and rush of traffic can be very annoying-- this is where the walkmans come in so handy. Sometimes I like to play music, or listen to NPR or something, but more often that not I prefer to listen to books on tape. You can get a real education that way, believe me. You can walk yourself to wisdom and erudition, as it were-- although I think you could also walk your way to wisdom without walkmans, as well. At any rate, as soon as I opened the box the walkmans came in, I hot-footed it over to the Robbins Library, in Arlington, and got a book on tape. Not Proust; not Joyce or Hesse or Hawthorne-- though there are times for them. No, my first choice was the unabridged version of The Hobbit, narrated by a wonderful English actor by name of Rob Inglis. He does all the voices in character, and it's just delightful to listen to-- not the roar of an 18 wheeler thumping by me, or unmuffled motorcycles, or bass-throb SUVs-- but instead, Bilbo's giddiness as the eagles swoop down and rescue him, the dwarves, and Gandalf from the fiery deviltry of the goblins and wargs-- and sweep them far far up and away, to their mountain eyries.

Anyway-- I have the ugliest back steps in the world. They're made out of pressure-treated lumber, have never been painted, and are cracked and, in some places, missing-- and the bottom seven steps have no railing. They're slippier than ice whenever it rains. And yet right now they are lovely-- for an ancient mulberry tree hangs over them, dripping with bird song by day; and each step boasts its own pot, filled with fragrant deep-purple petunias, or red begonias, or white flowering tobacco, or multi-colored pansies, or a beautiful blue salvia growing in an old wooden wine crate. And the fragrance of all on such a warm summer evening as tonight is delightful. So after our walk this evening, I thought I would take the air of my back steps, sniffing in the fragrance and listening to The Hobbit (they've just encountered Beorn now, the Man-Bear-- and I use that term not in the gay sense.) I shut out all the lights and brought out a little patchouli candle, bringing coals to my Newcastle. And there they were! The fireflies! Again and always, it seems so incongruous to me-- a four lane state highway in front, and four acres of deep dark woods in back, illuminated by only moonlight, starlight, and fireflies. Tonight there seemed three different varieties afoot-- brightish blue ones, clear ones, and orangey ones-- fluroescent, halogen, and incandescent, as it were.

And here's a bit of non-trivia for you-- non in the sense that what I'm about to describe seems far more noble and vital an undertaking than, say, bringing democracy to other countries, on the point of a bayonent: the city of Kitakyushu, Japan, is aiming to become "the best firefly city in the world." The pic above shows fireflies cavorting in that city. Here's what that city's website has to say about the matter:

"Since the domestically unprecedented establishment of the "Firefly Subsection" at the City Hall in 1992, the city of Kitakyushu has promoted the development of "a home for fireflies," a place environmentally friendly to fireflies as well as people, and made efforts in education and support for firefly protection and firefly raising activities on a grassroots level in local communities.
The city of Kitakyushu once experienced serious environmental pollution to the degree that the bay was even called the "sea of death." However, through cooperation between public officials, enterprises and citizens, the pollution has been reversed and now a beautiful natural environment where fireflies can live has been reestablished.

"The city of Kitakyushu is carrying out a number of projects to share information about this achievement. Furthermore, the city is aiming to become a world leader in promoting environmental programs through establishing a comfortable living environment for people and fireflies, and further implementing activities to protect the environment."

Don't you love that? Especially "the establishment of the firefly subsection at the city hall?" One could interpret that in a variety of ways. Was city hall the scene of the establishment of a section of the city, henceforth known as the 'Firefly Subsection"-- kind of like Codman Square, or the Leather District, in Boston? Or the Left Bank in Paris? Or was a bureaucracy created within the bowels of city hall, complete with black-suited, white-shirted, black-tied people in thick glasses picking up phones and answering, "Firefly Subsection, Mr. Nagamuto, may I help you?" Either way it's wonderful, and just what Skovo wants us to do, rather than 'liberate' other countries-- especially the over 1,000,000 Iraqi civilians who have been permanently 'liberated' from this mortal coil.

I would love to deplane at Kitakyushu in a trenchcoat and fedora some stormy night, flag down a cab, and blurt, "Quick-- the firefly subsection of the city-- and twenty more yen if you make it there in under five minutes." The beginning of a rousing tale.

Bravo, Kitakyushu! As the Irish say, God bless the work!


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