Growing up in the country, you could tell when the bluegill were about to start biting by the appearance of lightning bugs.
Later, when the katydids began to strum their mid-summer chorus, that meant it was time to forsake the scorching daytime heat and go night-fishing and frog-hunting.
Earlier this spring a late-evening drive to Reelfoot Lake brought back a lot of memories. As we motored along through the countryside, the dark, rolling fields glittered and twinkled like millions of Fourth of July sparklers.
Scientists theorize that lightning bugs – or fireflies – flicker on and off to attract admirers of the opposite sex.
Back in my prom-going days I owned a day-glow Leisure Suit that was supposed to do the same thing. I hope the lightning bugs have more success than I did.
As for katydids, there’s nothing more nostalgic than listening to their endless debate on a hot summer night:
“No she didn’t!”
“No she didn’t!”
When I was a kid we didn’t have a choice about listening to the summertime katydids. “Air conditioning” meant opening a bedroom window or sitting on the front porch until the evening cooled off.
Sometimes now, when the katydids start their serenade, I catch myself listening for the creak of the porch swing or the contented sigh of my old dog Kazan who always snoozed at my feet.
The katydids also stir memories of my boyhood buddies Ralph, Tommy, Tony and me tramping across pastures to farm ponds that glistened like silver pools in the moonlight.
Bass lurked in the shallows, ready to pounce on a Hula Popper or Jitterbug as it gurgled along the surface. There’s noting more exciting than casting a top-water lure out into the misty darkness, retrieving it with a glug-glug-glug, and – ker-splash! – a big bass suddenly torpedoing it.
Like the burst of adrenaline that comes when a covey of quail suddenly explodes under your feet with a whirr, a top-water bass strike always startles the daylights out of you – and double-so in the dark.
And then there was frog hunting. I was reminded about how much fun frog-hunting used to be by a recent PETA protest of a frog hunt by some area kids. As I wrote at the time, we ought to be delighted that kids are outdoors hunting frogs and getting some exercise instead of plopped on a sofa turning themselves into I-Pad zombies.
Frog hunting is not just about going out to collect frogs, any more than going camping is going out just to sleep on the ground. It’s about a band of teenaged buddies stomping around marshy banks while exchanging theories about high school, driver’s permits, Mary Sue Wattenbarger and other cosmic mysteries.
The sweet smell of new-mown hay hangs in the warm summer night as lighting bugs flicker (looking for their own Mary Sue Wattenbarger?) and the keen of katydids is so loud that it makes your ears ring.
Occasionally a bullfrog joins in, singing bass, and off in the distance a whip-poor-will whistles a mournful dirge for someone who is about to pass on (so an old wives-tale claimed.)
Such mid-summer memories are only a firefly-flicker or a katydid away.