Monday, July 30, 2018

Light and Death: Choosing the way of the firefly

This picture drew me to Puebla (Photo Source)
The luciérnagas (fireflies) were awesome.
  • A woman died.
The deciding factor for going to Puebla in July was to see the spectacle of the fireflies during mating season.
  • Five years ago, Nanacamilpa    was just a tiny village in the verdant, high farmlands of Tlaxcala. Last night as hundreds of the more than 100,000 people who show up to experience nature's "new gold” during June and July, one woman started up the forested hill, following her own journey, and met her destiny on that twisting path.
Our 15-passenger van left the Puebla Zócalo in late afternoon with me as the only gringa on the van. Isolated in a wash of Spanish, fleeting thoughts of California struck me as we wound through the familiar looking rolling green hills. Leaving the highway, we joined a bumper-to-bumper stream of cars, vans, and buses, a temporary intrusion to this peaceful countryside.
  • She sat in the seat in front of me. I didn’t know her name; didn’t know enough Spanish to make a connection even if the opportunity had arrived. She was youngish, looked about 40, heavy set, wearing skin-tight, flamboyant leggings that are popular here.
We lemminged our way through the village with hordes of vendors lining the street selling rain ponchos, pulque, and anything else that might be wanted by the solid stream of firefly pilgrims. Through the village and down the narrow, rutted dirt road, we crawled to a park-like setting at the foot of the mountain. There we found a playground for children as well as food, drink, and a chance to visit with our trip mates. I met another couple from Chihuahua who spoke decent English. They took me under their wings and, with Lule, a woman from Puebla who was my seat mate, we had a lovely time eating epilotes ... corn cut from the cob, mixed with lime juice, mayonnaise and chili (of course) ... and sharing stories. They wanted to know about my favorite places in Mexico and shared theirs with me. They laughed and said I knew Mexico better than they did.

(Photo Source)
  • It was only 2 kilometers from the park to the firefly viewing area. However, it was uphill and we were already at altitude, maybe 8,000 - 8,500 feet … maybe more. I wasn’t worried. I’ve been walking a lot and was about to have a 90,000-steps week. We listened to the repeated instructions of the guide … by now I understood most of them … no cell phone noise, no camera flashes, no talking. We heard the safety precautions for people who might have bad knees or heart problems and the recommendations not to carry backpacks to avoid fatigue. I carried mine anyway.
Foto: Flickr
The hundreds of people milling around waiting for the adventure to begin created a logistics issue of matching guides to visitors and again explaining the process and restrictions. Finally, we began. Probably too fast. The viewing time to watch the fireflies only lasts an hour.
The path was wide enough and clear but it was definitely up hill and, within minutes, my breath was ragged and I was hot, too hot. I knew I needed to slow down so I fell back and noticed others who were also having problems. 
A few minutes after we stopped for a break and I was beginning to get my breath back, I checked my Fitbit for my pulse rate … it was still 132, far above my resting rate in the mid-50s. I felt a twinge of fear and knew I was hitting the edge of my zone. I was going to have to take it slower.
  • During the break, I noticed the woman from the bus. She seemed to be having problems. Our guide was talking to her and when we started again, he set a slower pace.
The light was fading and, with our slower pace, I noticed a few fireflies showing up in the bush. It reminded me of my childhood. I had stripped off a couple of layers of clothing and Jorge, my new friend from Chihuahua, insisted on taking my pack. We walked on for a bit and then halted again. The fireflies were dancing and it was quiet and lovely. Enough fireflies were around us that we could notice the synchronization of their blinkings. The word we shared, quietly, was increíble, a word that works in both languages.
  • Suddenly I heard shouting, muffled by the mountains and trees. I couldn’t understand the words, however, the sound was ominous.
(Photo Source)
We still weren’t moving but the fireflies were mesmerizing so we didn’t mind just standing and watching the show around us. 
Thunder began to rumble in the distance and flashes of lightning occasionally lit up the forest around us. It didn’t take long before the wind picked up and rain started. We put on our rain ponchos, but the rain was light so it just added to the atmosphere … for awhile. Then the lightning got closer, the rain fell harder, and we began to move down the hill. 
I assumed it was because of the rain and lightning hazard. The dark path now was wet and a bit scary. Lule grabbed my hand and together, step-by-step, we retraced our steps, hearing “cuidado” (careful) frequently as we descended.
  • At a bend in the path, we came to a group of people huddled on the ground. In the dark it took a bit for all the pieces to come together. Light shining on a bare stomach on the ground … the rhythmic movements of CPR … the woman from the bus. There was nothing to do. Everything was being done.
We continued our descent. Silent. Still gripping hands. One step after another. Lule brought out her cell phone flashlight. The restrictions about light and noise were already broken. We didn’t say much; just kept stepping carefully. At one point we tried to sing away the horror and the fear. Cielito Lindo. It drifted away into the night.

We thought about the possibility of rescue … of life … as we kept walking through the night, through the rain, through the reality of death. One of the things we learned about fireflies is that they like humidity and rain. But, on this dark night, even the fireflies were gone.
  • On the trip back, one passenger short, it turned out that no one on the trip knew the woman. She was sola (alone). While I had called her la mujer (the woman), the people on the bus called her La Señora, which seemed so much more respectful. After a long period of quiet, the group began a prayer from their shared religious background. Even though I did not understand the words or share the background, it felt comforting.
It took an hour and a half to inch our way from the mountain back through the village and to the highway, stopping frequently on the narrow road to let emergency vehicles pass on their way to do whatever was left to be done. I wondered what brought her on this journey to see the fireflies. I wondered who she was, what she loved and who loved her. I couldn’t help thinking about my own situation, my own life, the possibility that it could have been me, alone on a dark night on an unfamiliar mountain. 
"I can't believe this happens on planet Earth"
Firefly Symbolism

I came on this journey because I wanted to see a natural phenomenon. I wanted to see a carpet of magical fireflies doing something that is little understood by the world of science as these fireflies create light without producing heat for one month of their two-year life ... the rest is spent under ground.

However, my experience on the mountain intersects with the book I just finished: The Magician of Lhasa, which on several occasions states: it’s not what happens, it’s how we interpret it. For more thoughts about what fireflies symbolize, I turned to Google and find people stating:
- "When fireflies come into our lives, they are there to guide us to ways of living that are more earth-friendly, and soul-friendly. Fireflies teach us the value of living simply, and relying on our own inner voices for illumination. Fireflies also come to us with a message of creativity, and remind us that our paths are made lighter by the beauty that we allow into our lives.”  

- "An ordinary looking creature during the day, admittedly, the firefly is a remarkable sight when it glows at night. This is a symbolic message to us humans that although our physical appearance may seem one way - it is our internal makings - what is inside us (such as our spirit) that makes us shine from the inside out. That which is within us will always illuminate us and those around us.”
- "In addition to using no heat to produce her light, the fact that fireflies eat very little is another symbolic meaning of economy or efficiency. Adult fireflies use their environment to the most effective extent possible in order to gain their energy. This is a lesson for us to use the resources we have available to us, and not waste or consume to excess." 
This led me to wonder what the lessons of this strange and beautiful night. What were the lessons of  the fireflies?
*** I never saw the light in La Señora. I’m not sure I even see the light in the people I see every day. Maybe that’s the message I need to have: See the light. I don’t have to hike up a steep path on a dark night to see beauty and incredible magic. I simply need to open my eyes. Right now I am on a bus going to Mexico City. It is filled with fireflies. It is my choice as to how many I see.
*** Maybe it’s also to let my own light shine ... without creating heat. What would that mean?
*** Or perhaps it's about feeding my own glow. What makes my light shine?


  1. Luciernaga is the name of the mall here in SMA where Soriana is located. I have often wondered what it meant but never made the effort to find out....thanks. Your walking journey reminds me of my hike to 10,000 ft to see the monarchs many years ago. Thankfully it was in daylight. Glad you had some people to help and I also hope that Senora made it home safe and sound. I have seen fireflies manifest themselves on hillsides in the State of Jalisco in January on a very secluded beach. I had to blink to be sure what I was seeing was really happening. A true treasure! Thanks for sharing.