Saturday, December 14, 2013

Putting things in bottles -- a Saturday reprise


Summer nights in Tennessee in the 1940s. We kids ran up and down the sloping front lawn chasing fireflies. Lightnin' bugs, we called them. They flickered in the darkness like fluid constellations. We caught them up in our hands and put them in bottles, sometimes two or three dozen to the jar. We thought to make lanterns. Heaven knows what amatory anguish our glass prisons caused the fireflies, all those males -- I assume they were males -- blinking away in close confines, horny as hell in a bioluminescent way. Eventually, of course, we let them go, once we realized their light was useless.

Other creatures, other bottles.

Homemade ant farms. A Mason jar filled with sandy loam scooped up from anthills, ants and all. I don't recall any memorable arthropodal architectural, just a bunch of ants milling about waiting for release. Not so much a farm as a frenzied formicary of frustration.

But -- ah! -- the luna moths. The size of our hands. Plucked from the garage wall and dropped into wide-mouthed jars. Drop-dead gorgeous. Mysteriously sensual. Even a six-year-old knew there was something lush and lascivious about these unwilling prisoners. We kept them in the jars for a day or two -- waiting for what? Something magical and forbidden. Our parents usually talked us into letting them go.

Walking sticks. Chrysalises. Daddy-longlegs. Ladybugs. Newts. Each took their turn in our transparent slammers. I wonder what, if anything, we learned? Maybe a little natural history. Maybe something about biological diversity. Maybe something about freedom, confinement, and the milk of human kindness.

(This post originally appeared in October 2009.)