Posted by: Shanna Germain | 10/07/2009

Pg. 170: The Difference Between Lightning and Lightning Bug


A streak of thunder through a night sky, somewhere in Texas.


It’s funny how often you don’t realize you’ve been missing something until you return to it. There are things you notice and miss right away — for me, when I moved from NY to Oregon, I instantly missed the rolling hills, even though it only took me about a day to fall in love with Oregon’s glacier-capped mountains. Moving to Scotland, I missed the evergreens. Now, I miss the ocean — the sound, the salted smell, the rhythms of it — more than I can begin to describe.

But other things I didn’t even realize I missed until I returned to them, and felt that deep pang of wonder and despair that comes from a sudden understanding that something you love has gone by the wayside and you didn’t even realize it.

The first time this happened to me was with lightning bugs (which, for some reason, we called fireflies. I think they’re the same creatures, but I’m not entirely sure). I didn’t even realize that the west coast didn’t have fireflies until I went back to NY for the first time, and was driving back to my parent’s farm in the middle of nowhere late at night. I turned a corner on this country dirt road and there, in the field in front of me, must have been thousands of fireflies. It’s an image that will never leave my head, because I actually pulled the car over, my mouth hanging open. Both at the beauty of the sight and at the fact that I had forgotten, completely forgotten that such a thing as fireflies existed.

Most recently, this has happened to me with storms. I forgot how much I loved storms. Oh, don’t get me wrong — Portland has storms in the fact that it rains, pours, pizzles, pisses and can generally soak you in about thirty seconds. But thunder and lightning? Forget about it.

And then, here in Texas, land of the huge skies and the, apparently, even bigger storms. Thunder is loud and crackling and booming and it makes you jump and cringe just a little even when you aren’t outside. The lightening is fast and furious and purpled with energy, jumping and streaking and cloud-hopping. You can feel the energy in your hair when you stand outside and let the wind whip you and the grass and the crickets into a frenzy. All of it reminds me of Dorianne Laux’s fantastic poem “Late October” (if you haven’t read it, I recommend that you do — it’s one of the best poems I’ve ever read).

To think I’ve been without thunder storms in my life for so long, and didn’t even notice makes me sad.

To stand beneath the ginormous Texas sky and feel the heat and light crackling through me hair makes me feel alive.

Far and fast, s.



Lightning jumps from cloud to cloud over Texas.


“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” ~Mark Twain



  1. i love teh energy and the wind you can feel when the storm builds up…its worm..windy..makes me exited…makes me wanna run for the storm..for teh source of that feeling…

    i love to wake up at night when the storm is howling and the lighting puts shadows and light reflexes over my walls…i actually collect cds with nature sound sof thunderstorms and play them often when i cant fall asleep….

    • Oh, yeah, I love night storms too. They’re my favorite! I love waking up to that sound, and listening to the rain and thunder while I’m in bed.

  2. I didn’t know the West Coast had no fireflies. Interesting! When I see them from our deck, carpeting the meadow between our house and the hill it faces, I feel like I’m onstage and they’re cheering me with their lighters. : )

    I do associate them with muggy evenings–which I guess is an east-of-the-Rockies style of weather, eh?

    • I feel like I’m onstage and they’re cheering me with their lighters. : )

      Okay, that’s the best description of fireflies I’ve ever, ever heard!

  3. Storms and lightning bugs…two of my favorite things!

    We called them fireflies, too. They were a hallmark of my childhood, dancing first in the garden and then in my little Mason jar. Letting them go was always the coolest part. They would crawl to the end of my fingers, pause for a moment as if surveying the world, and then lift their wings for another moment, testing the air, before zipping away to wherever fireflies go.

    Storms always seem to call me outside, where I wait for them until they get too threatening and drive me back in. Have you ever really listened to the wall of rain as it comes toward you? Try it sometime — close your eyes and listen to the rush of it as it gets closer, and closer, and finally drenches you. It’s one of the most magical things I’ve ever heard.

    • Oh, yes, I did this too. Catching them and letting them go. It always seemed like there was a poem in there but I never knew how to write it without it seeming cliche.

      And I do love to listen to the rain. The best time I ever heard it was during a storm in Costa Rica, in the middle of the rain forest. Amazing.

  4. the german word for those lil bugs is: leuchtkäfer

    • Okay I like this new word 🙂

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