When my husband and I experienced our first summer in Lansing we were entranced by the steady green sparkle of fireflies illuminating our neighborhood. In the twilight of July evenings, every yard was graced with twinkling lights like tiny meteorites burning up in the earth’s atmosphere.
As a child I watched movies where people caught fireflies in jars and wished for the opportunity to do the same. When evening came my lawn was simply a blank and ever-darkening mat of common grass. Catching fireflies seemed a right of passage I had been denied. I had always assumed they didn’t live in Michigan.
Fast-forward to this very week when Michigan is overrun with a bumper crop of mosquitoes courtesy of the very rainy spring and a sudden uptick in temperature. The air is thick with moisture and the relentless buzz of bloodsucking, six-legged vampires. Our almost-five-year-old son was mobbed the other day and suffered about eight bites on just one foot and ankle. He scratched. The ankle swelled. And he ended up looking like he’d sprained it it was so swollen, red, and purple.
Zach and I realized that we would all need bug spray for any excursion beyond the walls of our house until this first wave of mosquitoes dies off. It occurred to us that, despite growing up in what is essentially reclaimed swampland in the Bay City area, as children we never put bug spray on to go play outside. We got occasional bites, but we weren’t mobbed.
When we were growing up, our community sprayed for mosquitoes to keep the population down. On heady summer nights I would be out playing in the yard and from far off I’d hear the steady beep, beep, beep of the mosquito truck. Mom would hear it too and call me in. Then we’d tear around the house shutting all the windows to keep the poison out.
It was Zach who made the connection. No mosquitoes meant no fireflies. The poison spewing from the truck wasn’t genetically engineered to kill only mosquitoes. Anything that was out at twilight and not hidden away in some protected spot would suffer death. The good was destroyed along with the bad.
No mosquitoes, no fireflies.
We work hard to eliminate adversity in our lives, don’t we? I know I do. I want to get along with everyone if I can. I want my work to hum along without bumps along the way. I want my writing career to progress at a steady pace without big setbacks. I want my son to grow up without feeling the sting of rejection from friends or the public humiliation of messing up a play in baseball. I want my husband to feel constantly fulfilled and consistently loved by everyone.
But this can’t happen, can it? Life isn’t all fireflies. And if you eliminate the mosquitoes, the good times don’t feel nearly as good because there’s nothing negative to which it compares. It’s like taking an antidepressant that not only keeps you from falling into despair but at the same time keeps you from fully experiencing joy. Everything becomes a flat line. A flat line means you’re dead.
So we cover our bodies in DEET, hoping to avoid West Nile even as we are likely increasing our cancer risk. We do what we can to keep the mosquito bites at bay. And we look forward to seeing the fireflies in July.