Lightning Bugs and Mimosa Trees: Summer Arrives

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Summer officially arrives next week, about three weeks after it actually showed up, following an unusually cool and wet month of May. After a half-century enduring Texas summers, the heat and humidity still compel me to go into endurance mode for about four months. I continue to work outside in the yard or around the house, come back soaked from CrossFit, and gulp down tumblers of unsweet iced-tea. About 5 o’clock each day, I jump into the swimming pool, trying in vain to get my money’s worth out of it. Then I sit outside for an hour or so, with a fan blowing and listen to NPR while reading.

It’s a good life, actually.

As the sun leisurely sets and darkness falls, the fireflies arrive, glowing outside the large glass windows I spent several hours washing last week. My few years as the janitor for the Twin Cinema in Nacogdoches taught me, among other skills, how to properly wash a window with cloth sponge and squeegee. The second-floor windows are a bit tricky, requiring me to balance on a 16-foot ladder. I had to improvise a pole to hold both the sponge and squeegee to reach the top windows, drilling a hole in an old mop handle and screwing first the sponge, then the squeegee to the handle — all while holding on with one hand to the ladder.

Anyway, back to the fireflies. They seem especially prevalent this year, yellow-green bulbs flitting among the trees. The cats are fascinated by them. They perch on the sill and stare outside. One firefly slipped inside the other day, apparently on a suicide mission. Luckily, the insect headed toward a window, seeking escape. I was able to gently capture him in my palm and send him back inside.

As a child I captured fireflies — or lightning bugs as we called them as kids — in a jar with nail holes punched in the lid. Of course, they died by morning, and eventually I outgrew such unintended cruelty.

Fireflies are winged beetles, I learned, and there are more than 2,000 species. The bioluminescence, which is the fancy word for the glow, is used to attract either mates or prey. So a glowing firefly is either looking for love or a late lunch, depending on the species. Regardless, I enjoy watching the little critters flit about as the tree frogs and cicadas croak on a sultry summer evening.


Summer also means mimosa trees are in bloom. On my many travels lately, I spy them peeking out from the screen of trees along the highway, mainly pink blossoms, but some white blooms thrown in for good measure. According to the Grumpy Gardener in Southern Living, mimosas were imported in 1785 from Asia to Charlestown, South Carolina and are now prevalent throughout the South. Their blossoms are fragrant, reminding both him and me of gardenias. I stopped to take a photo of a mimosa near Henderson the other day, dodging fire ant mounds to get to it.

The Grumpy Gardener claims the best way to prune a mimosa is with a chainsaw. He is not fond of them. Mimosas are short-lived trees, like Bradford Pears, which also have beautiful blossoms but don’t live long (for trees). After summer, mimosas deposit scads of seed pods, which result in seedlings sprouting up wherever the seeds scatter. That makes the mimosa not a great tree to plant in one’s subdivision yard, since the neighbors are liable to end up with unwanted seedlings in their yard. But they sure brighten up the scenery along highways.

We had a mimosa tree in our front yard on South Twelfth Street in Longview. It was easy to climb. I enjoyed picking the blossoms, pulling apart the seedpods. But my mother hated that tree because of the mess it made, and eventually she had it cut down. The Grumpy Gardener would have approved. I didn’t, though I had no vote in the matter.


Summer on South Twelfth Street in the late 1960s meant trips down to the store to buy a cold treat, feet sinking into the oil surface of the curbless street. We neighborhood boys — Sid Crane, Ricky Apple, Bobby Marberry and others — played outside until dark, inventing games when we got bored playing baseball or football. Pine-cone wars were popular, small gangs of boys lining up on opposite sides of the street and hurling cones at each other. The green ones made the best weapon. A well-placed shot might even draw blood.

Bedtime meant sweating above the covers, the only ventilation coming from the attic fan. (There were two window units in the house, in the living room and my parents’ bedroom.) There was an outside door to the bedroom that brother Scott and I shared. If I pulled it nearly shut, the fan sucked in air on top of me. Scott would figure it out and open the door so that he could get some breeze. I would pull it nearly closed again when I awoke in a sweat.

And so it went on summer nights in East Texas without air-conditioning.

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