Fireflies In July
Observing the lengths that humans will go these days in search of entertainment just totally blows my mind away. I recently learned that people by the thousands stand in line at an amusement park (Cedar Point on Lake Erie) for two hours to take a ride that lasts eight seconds. You go from zero to 120 miles per hour in two seconds and spend the other six slowing down. That of course is another way to have your mind totally blown away which I suppose is why people do it. Humans are trying to escape their environments, are trying to escape themselves. I can’t think of any other way to explain socially-agreed upon madness.
But I have a theory about it. Most of us have only a little knowledge of the awesome events going on in nature right around us all the time. That’s why we must ceaselessly travel in search of distraction far and wide. There are wonders at work right under our noses but we don’t notice. It is even more lamentable now that we have abandoned the real world for the electronic world. I have a hunch that being fascinated by the computer won’t last long either. But where else can you go after you have experienced the ecstasy of going from zero to 120 in eight seconds?
The amusing thing to me is that one of the most electrifying examples of the electronic world is also one of the most beautiful wonders of the real world and it comes to visit us free of charge every summer. You need travel no farther than your porch to enjoy it. Or sit at the edge of a wheat field at dusk in July. Fireflies. Lightning bugs. If you know the facts about these luminescent little starbursts blinking on and off in the night air, you know that they are signaling each other for, among other things, mating purposes. Not so much different than teenagers on their cell phones. The chemistry of the firefly’s luminescence is awesome, a kind of light without heat, or at least an extremely low amount of heat. I think scientists in their electronic labs have learned how to duplicate it by now, even it they don’t understand it. At least I hope so because for years there was a lively market selling fireflies to these labs. I know Amish farmers who made a little part time cash this way, the least known of all farm products.
I have been writing about Karl Kuerner, an up and coming artist whose paintings fascinate me. They almost always depict homey, everyday scenes, common to garden farm life, rendered in a quiet but vaguely troubling way, creations of a brooding but humorous man who sees the universality of all life in the smallest examples of it near at hand. Here is an artist who does not need to feel the artificial excitement of going from zero to 120 in eight seconds although he confesses a fascination for roller coasters— not to ride but to paint. He feeds the wild deer on his farm out of his hand. He and his wife nurtured a wounded buzzard back to health— he painted it in his wife’s lap. He also painted three baby coons clinging to her back. He knows, as all true farmers do, (he and his Dad just took in a cutting of hay last week) that his farm, the same one that Andrew Wyeth used for many of his most famous paintings, is a place of deep and wide and vast wonders. From his studio, he can look past his barn over the hill and see forever.
Recently he finished a painting titled “Fireflies” that just fixates me. What you see first in the painting is an old mason jar on a plain old farmhouse window sill, two of the most homely everyday objects of American life. But something about the way he painted them makes me think of a chalice on an altar. Around the mason jar out the window, fireflies light up the night (candles?), so real you think at any moment that they will start blinking if you stare at them hard enough. So I stare as hard as I can at these dancing lights, signaling for sex. When I do, I am jolted to see something else out beyond the window in the shadows of the night. Human figures are dancing out there. Naked human figures. I suddenly wish that I were one of them. Maybe in the universal sense, I am.