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Meet the Columnist

Columnist, Sheila Moss, is humor writer from  Tennessee. She writes  a weekly human interest column about daily life and the funny things that happen to everyone.

   She has written for  the Daily News of Kingsport,   Griffin Journal, Oakridge Now, Atlanta Woman Magazine, Aberdeen Examiner, Angleton Advocate,  and Smyrna AM, a supplement of the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal. She has been published by Voyageur Press, McGraw Hill, and the good folks at Guidepost Books.  Her articles have appeared in numerous anthologies and other publications, both in print and online.

    She is a former board member and past  Editor of  the, website of  the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, the oldest and largest professional organization for columnists. She is the Web Editor of Southern  and  a founder of the Southern Humorists writers' organization. She is writer, editor, and webmaster of

    To carry her weekly column in your newspaper, or to republish an article, please contact her. It's that easy. 

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A Shining Moment....

A Shining Moment

The Fireflies of East Tennessee

A few times in life there are shining moments, moments so special, so rare, that we know, even as they are happening they are moments that will be remembered for a lifetime. Shining moments dont come very often, but I had such a moment.

Id heard stories of some special lightning bugs in East Tennessee. So, what make these fireflies distinctive, you say? Fireflies are fireflies. They all do the basically the same thing, dont they? FLASH. Well, yes, but unlike most fireflies, these particular creatures all blink together - in synchrony. Impossible? Thats what I thought. Everybody knows that fireflies just flash when they feel like it, at random.

I wanted to see these unique fireflies for myself. Unfortunately, fireflies live a very short life span, about three weeks, and their season had passed. I decided right then and there, however, that I would see these fireflies even if I had to wait a year.

Last week the time finally came for me to travel east to the mountains and take a field study course yes "bug lessons." When my friends asked me what I planned to do on vacation, and I said, "study fireflies," I could see their eyes glaze over. "Okay, if thats really what you want to do," they all said cheerfully, in unison.

I knew what they were thinking.

I persisted. I packed my hiking boots and flashlight and went off to the mountains. The gathering of folk was a bit extraordinary, I must admit. There were entomologists, amateur naturalists, a reporter, a park ranger, environmentalists, the interested, the curious, a few disgruntled spouses who were forced to come all of us with one things in common, we were bug watchers.

Now, there is a dark side to this firefly story. It seems that black bears and fireflies enjoy living in the very same area. While fireflies are "people friendly," bears are another matter. Earlier in the year a woman was actually killed while hiking the nature trail. Sort of puts a damper on enthusiasm. Smart tourists tended to avoid the area. Bug watchers, of course, were not among the smart tourists. Besides, we had paid tuition, so we took our chances - anything to observe the synchronized fireflies or "photinus carolinus" if you want to get technical about it.

Dusk came but the fireflies did not. Seems these fireflies do not come out at dusk. They come out only in full darkness, in other words, when they get good n ready. Sure enough, as if on cue, at about 9:30 the fireflies begin to twinkle. We were told that the fireflies we would see were mostly male. They glow to attract and mate with the females who lurk in the grass, showing off like teenagers.

As I was clopping along the narrow mountain trail in total darkness, I began to realize just how demented this adventure really was. Walking fast to keep up with the group, I was afraid of falling down the mountain into the river or turning my ankle on the rocks. We carried flashlights covered with red filters to avoid disturbing the fireflies, but were advised to use them as little as possible. Night creatures should be studied and observed in darkness. They are a part of the night and we too must be a part of the darkness to see them. Walking along in silence and total blackness, even the pale glow of the moon was bright to eyes accustomed to darkness.

We walked through meadows of tall grass, looking for the path where the grass was bent over, wondering if snakes come out at night and what invisible creatures might lurk in the darkness. We crossed a narrow bridge, hoping not to slip into the murky water below. Finally, we beat down the grass and sat on it to watch the firefly light show, hoping the chiggers were asleep.

Sitting there in the wilderness I knew I had reached the edge of sanity, a foolish old woman, risking broken bones, out in the night in bear country. Yes, Id surely gone mad. I watched myself doing all this, and wondered. For what? Just to see lightning bugs?

But the fireflies did not disappoint us. The flashes of light were brilliant, much brighter than normal fireflies - splashes of light in the darkened forest. One firefly flashed and all the other fireflies followed with a radiance of their own, almost as if they wanted to outshine each other, pulsating in a primitive, rhythmic dance of lights. They did not just flash and then pause. They blinked for six consecutive bursts before pausing for eight eternal seconds between flashing episodes. It was magnificent, incredible, a moment of awe.

These fireflies are different, a species found only in a very small area, at a very specific altitude, in a very specific habitat. Was it the complete darkness of the wilderness that made them so dazzling or simply their own bioluminescent lanterns turned up high? It was difficult not to think of fairies, magic and enchanted forests; yet, these are nocturnal creatures of biology, not mythology. I pinched myself for a reality check.

In a just a few short weeks, the tiny lightning bugs mature, mate, lay the eggs of their young and die. A few short weeks and life is over for the season. Yet, their short lives sparkle brightly. They are shining stars in the insect world, creatures of magical beauty in an environment so fragile that it is feared they will be destroyed if humans continue to come. I will not detail their exact location, though it can be found if you search for it. If you go to see, you must tread with care. You must go with respect for the environment and with openness to the wonders of nature. You must go silently and in darkness.

Bug watching in bear country is not for everyone and probably should not ever be. For those who persist, it is a moment of splendor, of unity with nature, a shinning moment to be remembered for a lifetime.

Copyright 2000 Sheila Moss

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