Yesterday, midsummer, the Solstice, a lovely warm day, though threatening at times, it warmed up toward evening. Himself and I had dinner on the veranda, which practically shimmered in the unusual heat. We ate late, as usual, not sitting down before 8 or possibly 8:30. Afterward, enchanted by the gold light still striking the tall slender trunks of the trees in the wood, beguiled by the bright patches on the grass, the thin blue of the sky, I suggested we take a walk. We set off sometime after 9. I had my camera in my back pocket, but by the time we reached the fishing pond, the shadows were so long that the path was in twilight. Still the light off the pond, the pumpkin-coloured house across the way mirrored neatly in its brown-green surface, was beautiful.
We walked, as usual, to the Spitz, where the River Saalach pours into the Salzach, right at the border with Germany. There we stopped to watch the last fading pink in the pale sky over the confluence. A couple of young women had a small fire going in the sand, preparing, I would say, for a Solstice celebration. The thin blue smoke drifted over the rivers’ surface, mist I first thought, but no, smoke. It was too warm for mist, I suppose.
Across the Salzach, on the far side of the river, a slightly larger party was going, with two or three small fires and a band of smaller ones surrounding the group, candles or lantern, I would say.
‘Is that person naked,’ Himself asked.
We squinted through the dimming light. There were bodies as well as flames reflected in the river’s surface, but
‘No,’ he said. ‘I guess not.’
It wouldn’t have surprised us though, not really. It seemed a New Agey kind of group, gathering, no doubt, to mark the Solstice. Nakedness would not be out of line. No bother.
We walked along, companionable in a new-found way, sometimes holding hands, sometimes just touching. Just before we got to the bend in the path, the bend that’s just where a wooden bridge crosses a stream, we met another couple coming our way, younger, white patches on his pants just reflecting the last remnants of light.
‘Grüß Gott,’ they said.
‘Grüß Gott,’ we replied.
There was companionableness in their greeting: often in these walks others don’t acknowledge those they pass. But it was a sacred time, and others who were out in it were more than passers-by; they were fellow partakers of the magic.
The path, now overhung by dense foliage on both sides, became a tunnel. We rounded the bend, just by the bridge, and
‘Look!’ Said Himself. ‘A firefly!’
So there was. And another, and more, and more and more.
We stopped, enchanted. Tiny green-white stars, untethered from the heavens, flitted or hovered in among the bushes. We moved on a few paces and stopped again. Standing on the wooden bridge, staring into the water below, we could still see them, as one or two drifted out beyond the leafy banks.
‘I’ve only seen one firefly before, once, last summer,’ I said.
Himself said he’d only seen them once before, in Germany, years ago, before we met, walking with two young women in the early hours of a morning. ‘And up to no good,’ he added.
‘Are there fireflies in Ireland?’ I wondered.
We crossed the bridge and once more were walking parallel to the Salzach, trees along one side, water reflecting occasional lights from the opposite bank on the other. A small white waterfowl drifted north along the tide. The onion-domed steeple of the Bergheim church glowed pale gold. On its hill far above, Maria Plain was illuminated too.
On our right, in the low brushes, more fireflies glowed. All along the way, they danced or, occasionally, hovered in pairs, a few inches apart. We turned right onto the path leading through the park still watching their pale gleam.
‘It makes you understand why people believed in Sprites,’ said Himself.
It does. It was like scores and then more scores and more scores of tiny fairy lights, held by the Unseen, processing in the dark. One could imagine an invisible but parallel world, with the Little People going about their business, moving through the night.
Then – a crash in the bushes and something larger ran parallel and dashed across the path. Barely discernible but not invisible, another dark shape followed. Young deer, panicked no doubt by our voices, rushed to safety.
Then, passing the park maintenance building, we were suddenly under the harsh glare of man-made light.
‘Every building needs a fat florescent bulb,’ said Himself, grumbling.
Soon though, we once more entered the unlit dirt track running round the fishing pond. The fireflies still flitted in the dark leaves that bordered our walk. Down around the bottom of the track we went, skirting the bike and long pole of a fisherman, the lone holdout in the dark. We climbed the brief overgrown path between the wood and the last house on the street, still watching fireflies.
‘Look,’ he said, stopping suddenly. ‘Look at how green they are. Like emeralds. Greener than emeralds!’
I looked. In fact, they didn’t look as green as emeralds to me. They looked pale green, probably reflecting the light of the leaves.
But I said nothing as we turned into our driveway and climbed the stairs to the flat.
Magic is magic, after all.