A Lamenting Song for Fireflies: Progressive Destruction of the Environment, and Its Consequences
- We loved with a love that was more than love
- Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
- And here on earth come emulating flies,
- That though they never equal stars in size,
- (And they were never really stars at heart)
- Achieve at times a very star-like start.
- Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part. —Robert Frost, Fireflies in the Garden
Dedicated to Farasha Euker
Remember those late summer nights when, even if sitting alone in your garden or courtyard, you weren’t really all alone? Instead, you would see a swarm of fireflies trilling around you as scattered lamps. And you have to admit that the sight itself was magical, especially if you were lucky enough to witness such a thing in the countryside or forest. Even if you happened to be caught in complete darkness, being surrounded by dozens, sometimes hundreds of fireflies would give off the comforting feeling of safety and the absence of loneliness. Even more so, your heart and your entire being would be shrouded in an ecstatic feeling of acceptance and belonging. Surely, there is something to be said for nature and its dwellers: even in its crudest and wildest form(s), nature will take you in its embrace, irrespective of your background, skin colour or financial status. With its mysterious and diverse dwellers, many of whom science has not fully understood and explained, nature does not impose limitations and certain norms that you have to uphold. The rules are simple: respect your environment and what it offers, and stray away from destroying and eradicating that which is different or unbeknownst to your mind and senses. Perhaps the need to transform and tailor natural habitats and environments to the needs of humans is precisely due to our fear of the unknown, the fear of non-conformity and coexistence with the different species.
A path in the forest, lit by a swarm of fireflies at night.
As a child, I wondered if fireflies came out at night from a mysterious land/habitat, invisible to humans. A never-ending stream of questions titillated my youthful imagination: “How could I reach their habitat? Even if there was a way to reach it, would I be welcomed into their community? Would they be able to pass on their magical skill of lighting up darkness to someone who is different? What if they didn’t like me enough and decided to banish me from their luminous swarm?” But little did my foolish mind back then know that these luminous creatures would dwindle in number in the span of a few decades only. Even more so, that things would be completely reversed and that I would never get a chance to be a part of the swarm. This was not due to the decision made by fireflies alone. There were things more apprehensive and disturbing to think of, inconceivable to a child’s mind. As I was growing older I came to learn that the children of today and tomorrow will most likely grow up completely unaware of the beauty and magic of fireflies. This is mainly due to a morbid need of the homo sapiens to take apart, ruin, transform, measure, build, trash and dispose of things, living beings, and natural habitats. And all this for the sake of realizing perishable material gain and exercising supremacy over the world of nature.
Then, one day–after the childhood age has reached its end–reality hits us with a cruel truth: the summer nights that we used to know have changed substantially, and fireflies have started to gradually abandon the human race. Now, the night sky in the cities is not lit up by these luminous insects; instead, it is strewn with the reflection of colossal glowing glass boards, monstrous skyscrapers, and noisy traffic. Even the garlands of trees and flowers in the countryside and forests are being replaced with concrete, bricks, and cement mortar; the waterways are being resized and transformed into areas fit for cargo vessels (as scientists have observed, many species of fireflies like to reside close to water); light pollution is on the rise, due to overpopulated cities and increased traffic; and finally, pesticides have become the staple ingredient of grass, food, and air. All these factors have largely contributed to a decline in the number of firefly species worldwide. Summer nights have darkened from tufts blue to rust and slate gray.
As Ancient Greeks believed, nature is in a constant whirl of creation and self-maintenance. “When the Greek philosopher Pythagoras first called the universe a kosmos, he did so because it is a living embodiment of nature’s order, beauty, and harmony.[…] When we can view the exquisite grandeur of a forest, mountain range, or the form of a distant galaxy with a clear and untroubled heart, the beauty and harmony of the universe becomes immediately obvious–not through argument, but through direct perception” (Fideler, Restoring the Soul of the World, p. 34-5). The ability to perceive things directly and through a clear, unbiased method has become almost impervious to the modern mind. We are slowly losing touch with our surroundings, not only with the world of nature, but also with most things playing out around us. We are even losing touch with basic human contact. Some would blame the swift development of technology, but I prefer to believe that our lives have become faster and utterly dreary due to an intensified need to accumulate and spend more money. Spending time in nature or with our loved ones is now replaced by an obsessive pursuit of numbers printed on a piece of paper that can help us exercise relentless power and arrogance, and eventually, to claim ownership of perishable objects.
Consequently, the desire for more money results in more development and heightened urbanization; however, the growth of population means an increase in the number of alienated and lonesome people. As strange as it may seem, the number of people diagnosed with clinical depression is higher than ever. At every moment, we are faced with countless decisions that we have to choose from. We lead quick-paced lives, unable to devote enough time to ourselves. Oftentimes, we are compelled to take on challenges/quests that we don’t really desire. Modern human is trapped in a vicious circle of ceaseless decision-making; yet, so many of the actions we perform are done at the cost of spoiling the beauties of nature. Many of the decisions we make are shaped by a selfish pursuit of perfection at places saturated with simplicity, intact beauty, and organic harmonies. Due to our subjective vision of what beauty is, and the ubiquitous desire for economic growth, natural spaces are gradually becoming a thing of the past. Constant desire for change and preponderance results in the eradication of green spaces (with the exception of a few parks here and there) and the creation of confined, uniform, and faceless areas squatted by next-door neighbors not caring or knowing each others’ names. Likewise, the astounding fear of silence results in the emergence of more highways, vehicles, and noise.
The remnants of my youthful imagination prefer to believe that there is hope for the world of nature, and that someday, human species will come to realize that nature is a living organism that ought to coexist with the human species. What we give to nature, nature will give back twofold. If we nurture the world of nature and its original dwellers, nature will reward us more than we could ever desire; if, however, we wreak chaos, nature will backfire at us with its most detrimental force. So long as we see the world of nature as an object of endless exploitation, we will never learn to appreciate the simple things in life. After all, nature is all about simplicity: it lets you tread its vast, boundless territory; it sucks you in its mysterious, yet captivating sounds and smells; and it gives you freedom and a sense of belonging sought desparately in the confines of cities, houses, and within our own communities. Even if you seek shelter or refuge, nature will let you in wholeheartedly, without any judgment or reservation.
If we can overcome our lust for money and power, perhaps then will we be able to rediscover the true lushness of nature. As an optimist, I prefer to believe that fireflies are not doomed to be eradicated quite completely, but instead, that they have abandonded the human species, only temporarily, with the intent of coexisting with us once we learn to re-open our senses to beauty, simplicity, and the revival of natural spaces. What we need is to revolutionize the way we think about the world around us, the way we interact with our environment, but most importantly, transform the ways we treat our fellow humans, as well as other dwellers on the planet. If compassion, love and kindness are all we need to improve ourselves and the world around us, then why do they seem like the holy grails of our existence? Perhaps only when we learn to combine these three elements in our everyday existence, will we be able to grasp the mysterious language of nature and its diverse dwellers.
Fideler, David. Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence. Rochester, VT, and Toronto: Inner Traditions, 2014. Print.