No, not the Firefly Music Festival; Congaree National Park's Firefly Festival.
"Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies..."
- Robert Frost, "Fireflies in the Garden"
In the South, a key indication that summer is starting is the presence of fireflies. This year, I've seen them as I'm driving down highways, as I'm walking my dogs in the evening or as I'm closing up my pool for the night. They're everywhere, and I love seeing their blinking glow rise as the sun sets.
Congaree National Park in Columbia, South Carolina is a treasure chest for those who enjoy discovering nature's hidden gemstones. Here are three reasons why you should check out this National Park's Firefly Festival, which occurs in any given two-week period between late May and early June.
1. Congaree is one of a few places in the world where you can experience a natural wonder up-close and personally.
The Firefly Festival at this National Park exists to bring awareness to a seldom-known natural event: synchronous firefly flashing. This event, which can be found only in a few places worldwide, occurs when fireflies gather to mate with one another. Research continues to be done in hopes of determining the reasons for and mechanisms of the synchronous flashing, but it's currently suggested that the flashing is a form of male-male competition for females. While there are over 2,000 species of firefly found worldwide, only 3 species of synchronously flashing flies can be found in the U.S., one of them being right at Congaree!
2. You can walk amidst the magic of synchronously flashing fireflies.
After arriving at the park during this two-week period, you will find that workers at Congaree have extensively and adequately prepared for this event. Stepping into the encompassing glow of red lights, you find yourself transported into a seemingly new world. As your eyes adjust to the contrast between the red light and pitch blackness of the night, you find yourself walking through Congaree National Park underneath a deep red hue, which is a unique experience in itself. Soon you are directed to a trailhead on which you hike through a 0.8-mile trail that highlights the fireflies. As you walk, you're surrounded by forest and fireflies (and other visitors, of course). Almost immediately you will find yourself mesmerized by the synchronous flashing of the fireflies: all at once you'll see fireflies flashing in large groups, as if they are clusters of twinkling lights in the Milky Way. Everywhere you turn you are surrounded by these shining diamonds, and you're walking literally among and between them.
3. You can learn a lot, all while checking another National Park off your list!
The park rangers and volunteers at the event were not only incredibly helpful but also incredibly knowledgable. They were able to tell us a lot about Congaree National Park in general and about the synchronous fireflies themselves. In addition, they opened the nature center for the evenings that we were there. In the nature center, you can learn many interesting things, including the history of how Congaree came to be coined a National Park, different species of animal that one would expect to find in the swampy park, and various books and maps about an assortment of subjects. In addition to learning all about the park, you can also check another National Park off of your list — and who doesn't love that?
Happy Earth Day!
This year, there’s a popular saying, of sorts, that “Every day should be Earth Day.” While I am grateful for the awareness that this celebratory day brings to important issues such as climate change, pollution, wildlife conservation and the preservation of our planet as a whole, I do agree that the topic is a very demanding one that needs daily focus and attention. Making necessary changes to our lifestyles, businesses and society is the only way that we will begin to start the journey of repairing the damage we have done to our planet.
It’s easy to become discouraged when considering the ways that we’ve affected our planet. Often I envy the people of the past who were surrounded and living in the raw, wild beauty of nature, unaffected by mankind. I am very deeply sorrowed at the fact that I will never in my lifetime see Earth in that state, one in which wild animals that are presently facing extinction roam the earth freely. Never will I, nor anyone, see the vast populations of trees and wildlife that once inhabited the lands of fallen rainforests and crowded cities. We are racing more and more quickly to a polluted ocean decorated by the skeletons of once-flourishing coral reefs. Nothing will be able to restore our earth to its young, natural state, and nothing will be able to reverse the damage that is being done now and that will continue to be forced upon our planet.
It’s easy for outlooks to be depressed by this mindset. I once had no hope, as all I could do was yearn for the things of the far past, for things that will never return.
But my hope has been placed in something else, something greater than myself.
One day the Lord directed me to Isaiah 65. Verses 17-25 stood out to me, shaking my world and completely reshaping my vision of the future:
It is within these verses that a beautiful picture is painted of the New Heavens and New Earth that we get to live in, that the Lord will create for us to enjoy. This New Earth will be so much more beautiful than what we experience now that we won't even want to remember the things of old, the things right now (v 17). That blows my mind.
My soul now longs for the things that the Lord promises to give us, and I turn to this passage in times of desperation and sorrow when I think about our dying planet. I’m incredibly thankful that the Lord has promised this New Earth to us, along with the animals that will inhabit it. My favorite verse in this passage is verse 25 — guys, there will be animals (even snakes!!!) in heaven that we will get to live with and among. I’m SO EXCITED. I consider this my new hope, my greater hope for a future that is natural and beautiful and raw and untouched and wild, perfectly and intentionally designed by God.
One of the things I took for granted before moving from the Sunshine State is the great amount of wildlife that can be encountered so closely to where people are localized. I love returning to my “homeland” because I become nostalgic and because a heightened appreciation constantly grows for the place I consider home. While my deep love for Florida wildlife may slightly bias my opinion, I think that Florida is one of the coolest states for viewing wildlife, as animals are fairly active year-round.
Today I went to the Circle B Bar Reserve in south Lakeland, Florida for the first time. This nature reserve is one of many in Polk County, and its recent claim-to-fame was thanks to a viral video of a massive gator, nicknamed “Mr. Humpback” by frequent park-goers, walking across one of the trails. I had vague hopes of catching a glimpse of this seemingly-prehistoric beauty, but I figured the odds were small, as the ranch is composed of 1,267 acres. However, I also knew that, being in central Florida, the odds of seeing an alligator were high, especially down the trail aptly named Alligator Alley.
What I didn’t expect when I got to Circle B was the overwhelming natural beauty I encountered at every turn of every trail. I was so in awe at the wild serenity that surrounded me — all I could do was take pictures and soak it all in. Wildlife for viewing was not sparse, either. As soon as I stepped onto the trail I was met by all sorts of bustling animals, including great egrets and great blue herons. I soon saw osprey flying high above the treetops and out over the lake in what seemed to be a hunt for food, bald eagles tearing through the blue sky screeching and fishing, and other birds basking in the setting evening sun. After doing research and looking-up different animals, I’ve composed a list of those observed on my hike: great egrets, sandhill cranes, great blue herons, bald eagles, osprey, alligators (I saw 5!!), squirrels, bob head quail, white ibis, red bellied woodpeckers, ducks, turtles, and others that I was unable to identify.
Another thing that struck me unique about this nature reserve was the way that it remained seemingly untouched by man, serving as one of the rare truly wild places left in the world. For example, I was walking along the trail when, further out in the marsh, I heard a splash and a deep bellow. Spinning around to find the source of the sound, my eyes landed on an alligator shaking its head in the water, gobbling up a quick snack or meal. In all my time spent alligator-watching growing up, that was the closest I’d come to watching an alligator catch prey in the wild. In yet another part of the trail I stood still, allowing myself to be engulfed in the sounds of the different birds and animals — it was one of the coolest, most natural experiences I’ve been able to witness.
As a Lakeland native, I can assuredly say that my short time spent at Circle B was some of the most fruitful time I’ve spent on a nature reserve. Wildlife was present in all different forms, and the scenery was simply stunning from every angle. If you ever get the opportunity, I urge you to give Circle B Bar Ranch a chance — it’s free to the public, easily accessible, and worth every minute spent there.
While I know that I’ve recently been posting about my relationship with the Lord and the things He’s done in my life, I definitely still have a keen interest in animals, nature, and conservation. As I was looking through a brainstormed list of potential blog posts, I ran across one that I loved the idea of sharing! Though the event happened back in 2015, I still remember it like it was yesterday, and I’ve always wanted to write it down. I guess there’s no time like the present!
On May 2nd, 2015, I volunteered at a 5K race called Walk to Cure Arthritis (https://www.arthritis.org/get-involved/walk-to-cure-arthritis/), which was hosted through the Arthritis Foundation. The race was located at the White Water Center, which is a really neat place to hang out for outdoorsy people like myself. My responsibilities included helping set up tents and tables, filling cups and coolers with water, taping the race path. We started setup early in the morning and were there to watch the sun gradually rise over the treetops, revealing more of its rays every few minutes.
Knowing a fairly good amount about animals, it crossed my mind that animals — especially reptiles — enjoy coming out of the woods with the sun. It didn’t occur to me, though, that I’d see anything other than a few lizards, birds, and maybe a rabbit or two. I was later proven wrong.
I don’t remember exactly what time we sent the first flight of runners on their way, but it was sometime around 9:30 I believe. I was stationed at a water cooler where I was tasked with handing out water to those who needed it. A while after the first group was sent off, the group of walkers started their walk. Not long afterwards, as we continued to hand out water, I started hearing a lot of commotion about something on the path. At that moment I tuned my ears to hear more about what they were saying as the word “snake” became more frequently mentioned.
I then distinctly remember hearing one woman say, “There’s a big ole snake over there in the middle of the pathway.” My heart jumped and I put the cup of water I was holding back on the table. Trotting down the gravel path, I looked for either a congregating group of people or the snake they would be staring at. Then I saw a break in the steady flow of people that resembled a rock splitting the path of a stream. Right in the middle was a fairly decent sized snake that I presumed to be a black rat snake: it was the coloration, roundness, and length of the creature that, in combination, led me to believe this.
As even more people began realizing what was there in the pathway, I quickly became alarmed for the snake’s safety. Not wanting it to be trampled, killed, or harassed, I made the decision to catch and relocate the creature. There was only one problem: I’d never caught a snake before, let alone a wild one. Granted, I’d handled different snakes often, including my pet ball python, an assortment of snakes that other people had caught, or ones handled by professionals, but there’s just something different about reaching down at one that could easily — and quickly — bite you.
I shoved all of this aside in my mind, however, and went for it. I figured I knew enough from both observation and common sense that would allow me to safely catch the snake. First reaching for its tail, I tried to gently gesture the snake over towards the brush. He wasn’t having any of it, though, and continued to realign himself so as to face the gravel path. In a few quick footing adjustments I found myself behind the snake, reaching for the back of its head with my right hand. I grasped its neck, but not close enough to the back of its head: in a lightning-fast strike he turned around and bit my hand. Refusing to be deterred, I squeezed my hand a little tighter and slid my hand up closer to its head so as to secure my grip on the writhing snake.
Shocked I stood up straight, snake in hands, people staring. I was smiling bigger than ever; I had just caught my first wild snake! Absolutely elated, I went over to someone and asked them to take my picture (seen below). After showing him off a little bit, I decided that it was about time for me to let him go. I found a pretty secluded brush area and let him go.
I learned something pretty cool during this whole fiasco: no matter how prepared I feel to handle a wild animal, I must never feel too comfortable in any given situation. This lesson was important to me because handling animals is something I hope to do long term; it was a humbling reminder that, though we can be prepared and knowledgable about handling animals, we must always be on our toes. It reminds me of a quote from author Mark Ross: “Around wildlife, ignorance is no excuse,” from his book Dangerous Beauty.
I hope to carry this lesson with me throughout the rest of my life, and I’m super excited to share the story of this encounter with all of you!
Happy Earth Day!! Today I hope we’re able to celebrate and appreciate the wonders and beauty of the natural world that has been gifted to us by God. Unfortunately, much of our earth is now riddled with different types of pollution, including that of air, land, and water.
One way to help dramatically decrease the amount of pollution in our oceans is to use fewer plastic disposable drinking straws. You know the kind: the ones that are found and used at practically every restaurant, whether it’s five star or fast food. According to The Last Plastic Straw — an initiative to alter the nonchalant use of plastic straws that so dramatically affects the environment — about 500 million straws are used daily and discarded in the United States alone (1).
The reasons straws are so impactful in our environment and oceans is because it is easy for them to get swept away from recycling bins and trashcans. A jolting statistic shared by Strawless Ocean, “An estimated 71% of seabirds and 30% of turtles have been found with plastics in their stomachs. When they ingest plastic, marine life has a 50% mortality rate” (2). Many animals mistake these pieces of plastic for potential items of prey. With a seemingly infinite access to plastic straws, today’s society heavily contributes to the pollution that is observed and experienced in the environment. Many people aren’t necessarily aware of the impact that straws have, but there are changes that can be made to catalyze the reduction of environmental pollution.
Step 1: Make a personal commitment to stop using plastic straws. Simply saying “no straw, please” when ordering a drink is an action that can easily impact the amount of plastic that you use cumulatively use weekly, monthly, and annually.
Step 2: Ask businesses to only offer straws to guests upon request, thus reducing their overall production of plastic waste and preventing an unnecessary waste of straws.
Step 3: Expose those restaurants to the array of alternatives to plastic straws, those of which include paper (AardvarkStraws.com), bamboo (Brushwithbamboo.com), glass (BeOrganic.me/), metal (Ecoatheart.com), or silicone (Reuseit.com)!
All of these steps are actions that can help the conservation and preservation of the natural world and its inhabitants, including ourselves. With less potential to be affected by invasive plastic straws, sea life — including fish, whales, sea turtles, and birds — can continue to flourish and keep our ecosystems in-check. Though in a big world it may be hard to feel like you’re making a difference, an individual's lifestyle change to stop their use a plastic straws could be the difference between life and death for any number of creatures on our planet.
1 Thess. 2:2
"...but with the help of our God we dared to tell His gospel in the face of strong opposition."