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Fireflies

19 Dec 2021

I rolled in to the campground feeling headachey and exhausted from 6 hrs of driving including through a heavy storm with some mini hail, all on a bad nights sleep. Pitched the tent, cooked up a dinner, then sat down and just watched the sun set through the trees.

The air was cool and wet from the afternoon showers, but very still. It was fresh with the smell of damp ground, moss and clear mountain air. The sound of a small waterfall in a nearby stream made its way through the forest behind my tent. Every now and then what I can only assume was a cloud rolled through the camp. I was at the altitude for it - 1300m. The visibility dropped and it seemed for a moment like I was sitting in an enchanted forest.

As dusk set in, my attention was on thoughts about the next day, and suddenly out of the corner of my eye I noticed a glowing red ember pass by, almost hit my tent. It went out before catching the tent. The campsites beside me had fires going, but I thought it was a bit far, especially with the air almost completely still. Then, the ember lit up again. It faded like a beacon in and out, a few seconds each time, floating in different directions. I widened my vision and wow - these glowing red embers were everywhere. Fireflies. I immediately felt the urge to capture the moment with a camera, and then realised the futility of it, no way they would show up. They were each about the size of a piece of ground salt. Besides, even a perfect picture could not capture the experience as a whole. So I just stood there and watched in awe as I was completely surrounded by these little red lights pulsing on and off. Flying right around me in every direction. Not only throughout the campground, but deep into the woods as far as I could see. It was like I had been transported into some alternate dimension, with the cool still air it felt like time had stopped and these little pulsing fairy lights filled all the empty space, dancing for seemingly no reason. It was magic, the universe literally smiling. Suddenly all the day's worries - hailstorms, crossing the border, catching covid - were replaced with just a sense that everything was ok right now.

At this point the nearby campers noticed them and we started remarking how it was even more incredible to see than we would have expected. None of us had seen them before, nor had we expected to see them here, at a random campsite in northern NSW. People travel around the world to see firefly hotspots, and here we were just pitching our tents for the night. The lady said she wished she could capture it with a camera, and - like me - quickly realised it wouldn't do them justice.

Then it started to sink in that this was one of those rare unexpectedly magical but fleeting moments, that even as my mind was already planning to come back to this exact spot at this exact time of year just to experience it again, it wouldn't be the same. So I stood there for probably half an hour just taking it in. Soon, dusk turned to dark, the fireflies started to "turn off" and it was also harder to discern depth, so they sort of became 2 dimensional. The fleeting moment was over. I thought maybe I could at least capture it in words. Maybe I can relive it in memory, but I don't think any words, pictures or memories can even come close to the experience in the moment. Something about the fact that it couldn't be captured made it all the more special. There was no choice left but to experience it now. At least, it's a nice reminder that life itself is one of those fleeting moments. Just a little red ember shining for a few moments, brief but beautiful.

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Hi! I'm Jordan, a full-stack software engineer who cares deeply about humane, unintrusive use of technology.

email: jordan [at] west.io | twitter | github