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Saturday essay: First light

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Contact Colin McNickle (412-320-7836 or

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Friday, June 21, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

The first lightning bug of the season flits by in the gathering dusk of spring's penultimate day, its telltale abdominal light flashing a golden code unique to each beetle.

It's soon apparent that this bug is — SHOCK! — not alone; a number of other lights begin to flash in the foliage below. A few females are responding. “It” is a he and the “she's” are interested. And away they go.

For a child growing up in rural Ohio, lightning bugs were no such entomological exercise in the birds and bees but a marker:

There was no “sleeping out” — on the back porch, in jammies, atop old bed frames outfitted with skids and sleeping bags — until the first lightning bugs of summer appeared (a supposedly sure sign that we wouldn't freeze in the process).

And that, oftentimes, coincided with Independence Day and delivery of our annual brand-new guns — cap guns, that is.

In the fading light after the family cookout, the snaps of the caps were challenged by the shouts of “Got another one!” as boys collected lightning bugs in empty pop bottles to make living lanterns for the long and scary night ahead.

The first light of morning usually brought two realizations — that July dew is no warmer than June's and that lightning bugs don't keep very well in pop bottles.

— Colin McNickle

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