Like tiny winged acrobats, their unmeasurable flight patterns consistently swirl inward to keep them within the slow-moving vector of light. In concert with the aerial display, on the glistening surface of the river, I can often see faint streaks — momentary wakes tracking the course of miniature multi-legged, self-propelled water skiers and boatmen. Amazingly they defy the ongoing flow of the current and manage to keep within the slowly shifting pattern of golden triangles as well. Apparently also drawn to the warmth of the newly arriving dawn.
I recently learned that there are over 3,000 types of mayflies, and scientists think a majority across the globe, like so many other animals, are in great decline. Unlike the popular monarch butterfly, only biologists and fly fishermen seem aware of the crisis. The young nymphs live underwater, essential cogs in the gears of life (what isn’t a cog or essential?), feasting on decaying leaves, algae, and all sorts of microscopic foods. They may live below the surface as long as a couple years. Since they are a good indicator of clean, unpolluted, oxygenated fresh water (upon which many ecosystems rely) their decline is a silent alarm. As they mature into flies, in the wondrous wheel of life, they become a favored food for many other animals. They live a very brief life on the wing — usually a few days or less; some species less than an hour, one is estimated at five minutes! They emerge from freshwaters spring to fall, often in vast clusters within one area, sometimes in swarms dense enough to be visible on weather monitoring equipment. Once airborne adults, they no longer eat — they are solely focused on mating and egg-laying.
I don’t know if these shining pixies I see on the river are a type of mayfly. Nor if they are searching for a mate to prolong their kind. Does the sunlight make them more or less visible — and so more likely to survive, or to be gobbled up by swallows, bats, and fish? What sensors guide these little beings to stay within the sun rays even as it rises and the shadows shift? What’s the source that keeps them going? Do they derive their energy from these solar rays or have they stored up reserves? Am I witnessing a poignant, beautiful final act, keeping in the slits of life-giving light right until they let go and die, their bodies gracefully becoming nutrients for others? I wonder, are they driven by instinct to seek the light to gain energy, or do they just ache to gather together with others of their ilk? Would this species die if they were to stay in the shadows? Could the end of their kind occur if they stayed alone in the darkness?
I like the feel of warm sunlight on my skin (who doesn’t?). Especially when I feel caught within a cold shadowy place. Yet we all began in darkness. And we all face periods when we may need to retreat a bit, to reclaim our center. Even brilliance can be too potent. The grand adventure that is life, (really, how we respond to the experience we call “life”) can overpower us, and unexpectedly drain our energy. Sensate beings that we are, we crave the safety of a haven to recharge. A safe, trusted space where we can feel less exposed and be less vulnerable. We all sometimes need room to fully absorb potent experiences and genuinely grow from them. Seems a wise way to re-balance within, a sort of recalibrating and maturing of our inner compass.
To me this feels healthy, to be sensitive to our selves by withdrawing a bit. Yet we too would surely wither if we stay in the dark. Our primal needs eventually kick-in, and at some point we all return to some degree of sharing within those vitalizing communal rays. In my experience it’s not as much fun to venture back alone. Especially when those we with whom we felt a camaraderie, friends with whom we shared bright smiles, or danced in the light, have found another ray. Or they may still be attending to their own restoration, when we feel ready to fly or swim within the fleeting sunshine. No matter, we have no option but to honor the moment, leap toward the light when we are compelled, and hold our own place in the golden shafts, sparkling specks amid the challenging winds and currents. I trust that the great cycle of life, beyond the veils of our individual experiences, ultimately always shines on and embraces us all.