Fireflies, as they twinkle in the summer night, might not seem like a big deal to some. After all, they are just simply little bugs flying up out of the turf.

But to us kids, they’re huge.

Fireflies, as they twinkle in the summer night, might not seem like a big deal to some. After all, they are just simply little bugs flying up out of the turf.
But to us kids, they’re huge.
In fact, nothing represents summer to me quite like that first sighting in the dimming light of the backyard this time of year. It came a couple nights ago.
There are a couple things you should know if you’re a lightning bug devotee like me. They’re not really flies, but beetles which (yikes!) have heretofore spent their lives as grubs in the ground. They morph into Tinkerbell in early summer to mate, thus turning on and off their yellowish love lights.
As common as fireflies and summer are to us in Missouri, they’re only found in temperate and tropical environments. Here in Eastern Jackson County we could be both. But in other places, especially the arid Southwest, kids don’t spend nights collecting lightning bugs in jars.
In fact, there are those who believed that fireflies were actually an invention of Walt Disney.
Johnny Whitaker was a child star in the late 1960s and ’70s. He was the adorable 6-year old nephew of Brian Keith in Family Affair and played the lead character in the 1973 musical, Tom Sawyer. The movie was filmed near Hannibal.
“The thing that I remember most,” a grown-up Whitaker said in the Missouri Department of Conservation’s new video, “Wired for the Wild,” “is that I had never seen a firefly before. And coming out here and seeing fireflies … wow … they were real! I always thought they were fake.
“FIREFLIES … THEY’RE REAL … THEY’RE REAL! THEIR BUNS LIGHT UP. THEY SHINE!”
Indeed, simple nature can be incredibly magical. And that, exactly, is the focus of the Conservation Department’s Discover Nature campaign and the message of “Wired for the Wild,” produced by Peg Craft.
Whitaker is one of a dozen or so of the testimonials in the production. Peg spent several years interviewing the famous and not so famous about how the Missouri outdoors had had a positive impact on their lives. It is fascinating to see and hear how they responded – especially since today all come from such diverse professions – and how nature is a common denominator.
“I don’t think human beings can live without a relationship with the out of doors,” said Dr. Carl Schramm, President of the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City.
“First, we’re humans, we’re not built to sit in front of a computer all day, every day and get happiness from that,” added Carl Edwards, the star NASCAR driver from Columbia.
“There is something about nature that says, ‘I wasn’t manufactured,’” said Jane Chu, CEO of the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Kansas City.
Said Congressman Ike Skelton: “As nearer as nature, the healthier and happier one is.”
“Just as human beings if we don’t keep in touch with the outdoors we miss out on part of who we are,” said Linda Godwin, an astronaut from mid-Missouri who has flown on several Shuttle missions.
“When I was a kid growing up in Missouri there was open space and you felt freedom, you learned to appreciate nature. You had that time to just sorta let down and enjoy,” commented Jann Carl, host of Entertainment Tonight. “Having the opportunity to bring my kids back from Los Angeles to Missouri and enjoy the great outdoors is one of the things I cherish the most. To go somewhere like Bennett Spring – and just be together and not turn on TV – it really gives us a chance to reconnect as a family. You can’t put a price on that.”
David Lawrence, the popular former radio host of 61 Country in Kansas City, can relate. “I think everybody can enjoy that in their own backyard,” he told Craft. “If not in their own backyard, at least, somewhere close by.
“You know, since I retired, I’m not hunting a lot and I’m not fishing a lot. But I’m doing my part just living here,” continued Lawrence, who was sitting on his back deck surrounded by bird feeders. “We found a house on a park and it’s really a wildlife refuge itself. We have seen every animal indigenous to this area with the exception of a bear.”
Even, most recently, fireflies.