A Wilson Times Co. publication · Serving Southern Nash County Since 1947

Seeing the fireflies

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Firefles light up the scene at Congaree National Park.
Firefles light up the scene at Congaree National Park.
Bill Howard | Special to the Times

I am an outdoors columnist and a freelance photographer. If you have read this column more than a couple of times, you know I like to reminisce about days in the past while getting to the point of my story.

Simple things are all that I try to remind people of. Simple things and simple times. Those are usually what makes up the fabled “good ole days.” You know, things like punching holes in the top of a mason jar.

Last year, I was hoping to catch something that only happens this time of year. Not catching a fish, but an event. A natural event at that. However, the timing fell in place where that event coincided with another epic experience in which my wife, kids and even a few of my dogs headed to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. 

I love the national parks and I love that we as humans saw the need to have preserved land so we can experience things the way they once were. One of my goals when heading west last year was to capture an image similar to famed legendary photographer Ansel Adams of the Snake River and the Tetons. I was fortunate enough to come really close to doing so, and shot it from the exact spot that Adams captured his image from nearly 70 years ago.

There are other images I would like to capture and things I would like to experience in this life. Things such as the ‘firefall’ at Yosemite National Park, where the waterfall becomes bright red for only a few days out of the year as the sun lowers to the perfect position. It resembles a gigantic lava fall. If you don’t know what I am talking about, give Google a try and take a peak at a few images that have been captured.

Another eventful experience is to visit the Cataloochie Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the elk rut. I have done this several times, and the bellowing of the elks’ bugles in a morning mist is absolutely something worth being a part of. Even my mostly deaf ears can feel the full effect of trumpeting mating sounds, sending goosebumps down my arms.

But the event I wanted to experience is not at one of the more recognized national parks. No, it is at a much smaller one. It doesn’t have the same visions that pop in people’s minds as the Grand Canyon, or Everglades, or Zion National Parks. It is by no means a Yellowstone or Yosemite. In fact, even though it is one of the closest national parks to us, few would recognize the name at all.

Congaree National Park only became a national park in 2003. Located just a few miles from Columbia, South Carolina, it is in a decent driving distance from about anywhere in the southeast. And during the final couple of weeks of May, something very special happens there.

There are three species of synchronous fireflies in North America. By synchronous, I mean that when they begin to search for mates, they all light up at the same time. They work like a wave of strobe lights, sometimes lighting up from left to right across the forest floor, sometimes just doing it all at once. It is a beautiful sight.

And I finally got to experience it.

It will last for about another week, and if you have an opportunity to take a trip there, do so. As much as I hyped myself up for the experience, it lived up to my expectations, maybe even surpassing them.

Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.