by Genevieve Wall, Richmond, VA

Story prompt: Write your own river story…

I came to the James River in 2019. That Spring, I accepted an Americorps post as an Environmental Education Intern on Presquile National Wildlife Refuge. I worked alongside both US Fish and Wildlife and the James River Association’s education team to connect students to the James River’s ecology and history via hands-on field trips. Despite its proximity to Richmond, the refuge is remote: it’s a 1,329-acre island smack dab in the middle of the James, and accessible only by boat. From March to November 2019, I was the sole human being living on the island.

That year, in the second week of May, a once-in-a-lifetime electrical disaster struck the island and severed its access to electricity or running water. In the long stretches of solitude that followed, I turned to songwriting as a creative outlet.

The night this song was born, I had returned to Presquile after spending Memorial Day weekend with my family. As the dark stillness of night crept on, I decided to make my way out under the sky to take in the first of many electricity-less nights.

The peak of firefly season had come early that year, so I sat on the front porch, mesmerized by the glittering galaxies of fireflies in the meadow – to this day, more than I had ever, or have ever, seen.

Yet the fireflies weren’t the only source of flashing: a violent U-shaped thunderstorm was brewing. What a light show! It was approaching from three sides. To my left: lightning. To my right: lightning. Ahead: lightning. And directly above and behind me: eerie calm, a twinkling starlit sky. As the lightning flashed, the fireflies flashed back. At once I was struck by an absurd pondering about creation myths. Across time and cultures, so many stories emerge about why humans are the way we are. What if fireflies had their own creation myth? What stories would they tell about the Great Big Lightning Bug in the sky?

This is: “Fireflies from Jars.”

Creative Commons Photo