Glow Worms

О Greater Light, we praise Thee for the less;
The eastern light our spires touch at morning,
The light that slants upon our western doors at evening.
The twilight over stagnant pools at batflight,
Moon light and star light, owl and moth light,
Glow-worm glowlight on a grassblade.
О Light Invisible, we worship Thee!
– T. S. Eliot, from O Light Invisible
We are all worms. But I believe that I am a glow-worm.
– Winston Churchill
When Sheridan and I were recently vacationing in Santa Fe, we visited our friends, Larry and Barbie, and over some good red wine and tasty edibles, Larry mentioned that some time ago he had the sublime experience of seeing a glow worm.  I was stunned.  A glow worm?  The only thing I knew about glow worms was the uplifting, toe-tapping song sung by the Mills Brothers that I had heard as a child:
Shine little glow-worm, glimmer, glimmer
Shine little glow-worm, glimmer, glimmer
Lead us lest too far we wander
Love’s sweet voice is calling yonder
Shine little glow-worm, glimmer, glimmer
Hey, there don’t get dimmer, dimmer
Light the path below, above
And lead us on to love!
I hated to confess that I had never seen a glow worm, but Larry’s rather innocent comment planted a seed thought in my mind and kindled a strong desire to gaze at one myself.  After all, who in their life has actually seen a glow worm?
The next day Sheridan and I were having breakfast at a lovely Santa Fe B & B, Ravens Ridge, when I casually asked the proprietors, Judge and Phyllis, “Hey, have you ever seen a glow worm before?”
To my shocked surprise, Judge said, “Why, yes, I saw one just a year or so ago.”
My eyes widened, and I stammered, “Wh . . . Where?”
Pointing, he said, “I saw one crawling on the wall next to the garden area.  It was quite beautiful.”
I couldn’t believe my good fortune; Santa Fe seemed to be in the middle of an veritable glow worm colony.
Later, Sheridan and I left to enjoy our day, but on that night and those that followed, I excused myself and disappeared into the verdant Ravens Ridge garden, a man on a mission, searching high and low for the object of my desire, a glow worm. Alas, in spite of my determined, persistent efforts, not one made an appearance. The last night there, as I sat expectantly on a bench overlooking the garden, I finally realized that finding a glow worm was much like a spiritual experience, in that while one can set the stage for such a sacred event, one cannot force it to occur, rather, such a hallowed moment usually comes on its own volition. I sighed and slowly walked back to our room, disappointed, but hoping that somehow, someway, I would eventually find the elusive glow worm.
Returning home, I did some online research and discovered that in America, a glow worm can be not only the larval stage of the firefly, but also a railroad worm, a member of a bioluminescent beetle family.  If you happen to live down under – Australia or New Zealand – glow worms are not beetles, but rather flies called fungus gnats. One genus, Arachnocampa, lives on the ceilings of caves, where they light up the interior with a soft, almost fluorescent blue light that has all the appearance of a van Gogh-like starry night sky.
At that point, I questioned:  Why does the glow worm capture such interest?  Certainly, not many worms or insects have had songs written about them. One explanation is the bioluminescence itself, which occurs not only in glow worms and fireflies, but also in some forms of marine life, certain fungi and bacteria. While scientists can explain the biochemical basis for this phenomenon, for me, the soft, shining light conjures up mystical, magical and ethereal feelings, thoughts of fairy dust and the elemental kingdom.  Also, for fireflies in particular, I find myself moved by the innocence of such tiny insects, yet, amazingly enough, they wield the seemingly miraculous power to generate light.  Perhaps even more significant, when I gaze at a firefly flitting through the dark night, the pulsing luminescence reminds me of the soul, the radiant spark of God that lies deep within each and every one of us.  I believe this divine part of our being remains pure and holy, and cannot be sullied by our missteps.  In that way, referring to the words of Winston Churchill, we are all glow worms.
Despite the onerous challenge of my search, I plan to steadfastly continue my quest for the glow worm. I expect that in the nights to come, I will be out methodically searching various environs into the wee hours.  So, if you happen to hear someone rummaging around in the bushes outside your home on a pitch-black, new moon night, don’t be too concerned.  It’s likely yours truly, searching for my little bioluminescent friend. When I find her, I will rejoice, and you are likely to hear a piecing scream of uninhibited joy.
Will my eventual discovery be a spiritual experience?
How could it be otherwise?

4 comments to Glow Worms

  • Sheridan Conrad

    How can I leave a comment that captures this quest of spiritual searching you have captured in the “hunt of the glow worm”, the spark of our own torch of inner truth.
    As we light the path of our own journey, may we also light each other’s path.

  • Carolyn Injoy

    “It’s likely yours truly, searching for my little bioluminescent friend. When I find her, I will rejoice, and you are likely to hear a piercing scream of uninhibited joy.

    Will my eventual discovery be a spiritual experience?
    How could it be otherwise?”

    Indeed, how could it be otherwise? I have fond memories as a teenager in Illinois visiting my sister and the woods were filled with fireflies. I found them fascinating. Haven’t seen any since, alas. I’ve lived in regions where it’s not conducive to their health.

    I don’t think many are flitting about in the middle of the Mojave Desert. But I await your joyous shriek upon finding a glow worm.

    I’ve not seen one of those and look forward to your photos.

    • Hi Carolyn! We have fireflies aplenty around where I live, and I think they have a magic about them. The moment I discover a glow worm, though, I’m sure you’ll hear my shriek all the way from Oklahoma!

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