I love our summers. The days are long, the temperatures are mild, the backdrops are postcard quality and a walk on Ruston Way or Chambers Bay or the Foothills Trail is free.
Bonus: The farmers’ markets are starting to brim with the best berries in the world, all grown locally. Golden raspberries are my weakness.
The month of May gave us an appetizer. Now I’m ready for a huge serving of South Sound summertime.
It’s nearly perfect here, but we lack one thing. Those of you who have ever visited or lived east of the Rockies at the right time of summer know what I mean.
We need fireflies.
Where I grew up, they are called lightning bugs. They have little to do with fire or lightning. They are not flies. They are magical beetles that carry around tiny chemistry labs in their abdomens that produce blinking light.
During a short mating season, the males fly around showing off their bioluminescence skills for females who flash back as they lounge nearby.
In some places, for reasons and by methods unknown, the entire firefly congregation synchronizes its blinks. Imagine!
Everyone marvels at the display. Families risk blood loss from mosquitoes and ticks to sit outside and watch as the fireflies rise from the twilit meadows. Children gather them in empty jelly jars for nightlights.
Scofflaws would sneak them into theaters in small boxes and let them loose (an irritant now accomplished with incoming text messages).
But for me, the fireflies’ highest calling is lighting toads.
Toads are thin skinned and dispatch their prey to small waiting rooms inside their digestive tracts. When a toad eats one, the firefly continues to blink as it waits patiently to be processed, lighting up the toad from inside. Fireflies are incurable romantics, clinging to a glimmer of hope of being noticed.
Toads will eat fireflies without people help, but because of the smorgasbord of bugs they have to choose from, you rarely see a lit toad without a little help from humans.
To light a toad, follow these steps:
First, procure a toad. You can use a frog, but the procurement process is more complicated. You will probably need a wetland permit; you will assuredly get wet.
Second, catch about five lightning bugs. Third, place them near the toad, alive and mobile. Toads won’t eat dead things and they prefer their dinner to be moving and close at tongue. You must respect their culture.
Keeping the fireflies in close proximity to your toad is harder than you think. Fireflies are surprisingly agile aviators and toads can get gone fast. Years of testing have taught me that a dry and unoccupied bathtub is the perfect place to introduce the critters.
Fourth, reassure the toad of your intent to enhance both the firefly and the toad experience. Toads will not eat when frightened. Human motivators like greed, guilt and fear have no effect on them. If the toad is hungry and comfortable, the first firefly will disappear with lightning speed.
Fifth, dim the lights – and voila! A lit toad.
Safety note: Do not be tempted to eat a firefly. They won’t light up your innards and they taste terrible to mammals. Believe me. You make that mistake once in a lifetime. Gack!
Also, stick with the amphibians. I dreamed of lighting up snakes. It never happened. While it is important to have dreams, it is best not to have your dreams dependent on the cooperation of snakes.
What to do with a lit toad? The best thing to do with Warty Blinkens, the preferred moniker for all lit toads, is to set him free. The other toads will appreciate the formaldehyde-free anatomy lesson and Warty will have stories to tell the great grandtads.
Also, please set your uneaten fireflies free. They have important business to attend to.
I’m braced for all the possible downsides of introducing this non-native species to our soil.
Unless they fancy our golden raspberries.
Chuck Kleeberg, a Tacoma resident for most of the last 40 years, recently retired from public service. He’s one of six News Tribune reader columnists for 2018. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org