Just a few weeks ago, I drove 800 miles from Texas to Tennessee and pulled up to my parents’ house on a Tuesday night. It took all of one day to get up to the Smoky Mountains, thanks to the Bear (also known as Nate Croft). He took me to dinner on Market Square in downtown Knoxville on Wednesday evening, then we decided rather impulsively to drive an hour east and see if we could catch the synchronous firefly phenomenon that occurs for 1-2 weeks every year in the Smoky Mountains (I knew nothing about it until this week, so here is a link from the National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/fireflies.htm). The Bear is the kind of person who would just up and drive anywhere, and with the wonders of nature involved, I must say I was rather excited myself.
We hopped in the Runner and headed for the hills. I started looking for an address and quickly learned that there is no address for Elkmont Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There were, however, GPS coordinates. We plugged the numbers into our map system and proceeded to wind our way through the dark, twisting roads, not even sure if we would find what we were seeking.
The directions took us straight to the Elkmont Campground, which we drove through slowly, asking a few campers about the fireflies along the way. After some helpful tips, we found a parking area which looked promising. As soon as the Runner’s engine was shut off, the trees in front of us came to life with the most unique thing I’ve ever seen. I had expected the synchronicity of the fireflies to occur like a slow and steady strobe, lighting up and going out simultaneously. What was happening before us was different but even more thrilling and beautiful: the fireflies would all start lighting up together but at different intervals, a 4-second burst of glittering sparks, then suddenly, nothing. Their lights all went out at the same instant, leaving the dark spaces between the trees black and silent and still. A few seconds later, it would all happen again. We sat there, mouths agape for at least ten minutes. It was incredible, and this was just the view from the car!
The fireflies would all start lighting up together but at different intervals, a 4-second burst of glittering sparks, then suddenly, nothing.
We finally managed to tear ourselves away from the wonder long enough to get out and look for the trail head. Since this was a spontaneous outing, we had only the flashlights on our iPhones. In fact, the Bear explained that he’d read that it’s best to have a red or green flashlight bulb to avoid disturbing the fireflies’ habitat as much as possible. Other adventurers were about, some with the special flashlights, others like us – with regular lights that we tried to keep off or shielded in our hands as much as possible. The trail was a mix of pavement, gravel, and, at one point, mud. I kept asking the Bear to shine it on the trail so I could get a mental blueprint, then to shut it off. I grasped his hand, my heart fluttering as my feet felt their way along the uneven ground. Every now and then, we would pass other people on the trail, but we seemed to be going in a direction that promised a quiet moment alone with the mountain.
A few more yards down the path, and we could see no one else. The trees all around us and even the dark place on the trail at the edge of our sight crackled with a thousand tiny lights. The following moments of darkness were just as wonderful, a peaceful foil to the rush of this fireworks display. We stood hushed, enthralled. Just when I thought the moment could not be more exquisite, I looked up. The mountain pines towered over us, framing a sky spangled with layers upon layers – clouds – of stars.
We stood hushed, enthralled.
It occurred to me that the splendor of the fireflies and their starry reflection lightyears above us is what made the whole trek worth it. Without it, we were on a dangerous foray into bear country in the middle of the night, stumbling along an unpredictable trail in the dark. But beauty blessed us with her company, and this sweet presence made the dark journey something entirely new. The very same thing happened to me a year ago, when I walked through the darkest valley of my life. Often I felt as though I couldn’t see the path right in front of me, each step a terrifying chance. The difference was, I had no flashlight, no blueprint to let me know what was going to happen next.
Beauty blessed us with her company, and this sweet presence made the dark journey something entirely new.
I have to say now that I would never trade that valley for anything. The darkness enriched the treasure of closeness I felt to a God who seemed to be drawing nearer in a way that perhaps only happens when your desperation is so complete. You see, Beauty blessed me with His company, the sweet presence of the Good and Ancient One making my dark journey something entirely new. The danger and fear became worth it in the wonder of it all.