Story Time: Pennsylvania Firefly Festival

Here we go: the first of the many recap posts I’ve promised.

Let’s do this thing.

So, this past weekend my friend Melissa and I went on a road trip to the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania to attend this event called the Pennsylvania Firefly Festival.

Around this time every summer, a bunch of types of fireflies living in Allegheny go searching for ~love~, and it means that you get to see literally thousands of fireflies all sparkling and dancing out in the middle of the woods. It’s really nerdy (and really wonderful), so when Melissa asked me if I’d like to go with her, I jumped on the opportunity.

We left for the festival Saturday morning, drove all day (only making a quick stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for sustenance), and arrived at a campground in the afternoon. Unfortunately, it was not at all obvious what to do once arriving there, so we spent the next hour or so driving in circles and getting increasingly worried that we’d never find the actual campsites.

However, at least our view, during this portion of the day, was pretty pretty:


Eventually we did find a campsite, though, with the help of some very kind park rangers, and we spent another hour or so setting up our tent.

It was a three room, ten person tent. We are two very small people. I had never set up a tent before. I’m really proud of us.

Photo taken from the drawbridge over the moat surrounding our castle.

After wrangling that thing into standing, we headed for the festival itself. When we arrived, it appeared to be a pretty low key affair, which was disappointing at first. There were only a few food booths (and pretty much all the food was a variation on hotdogs) and there wasn’t much to see outside of that. (The music was all bluegrass–which neither of us were interested in–or stuff like Owl City’s “Firefly,” which is great and all, but is so on-the-nose I can only handle it for so long.) Bored with the sun still up (so no fireflies yet), Melissa and I decided to go for a walk along one of the trails branching off the property.

This was really nice and our first real taste of how gorgeous the Allegheny National Forest is.

Just, like, look at this:


Then the sun went down and a guide (who knew ALL about fireflies) took a big group of us out on a trail to watch synchronous fireflies come out to play and our earlier disappointment evaporated.

If you don’t know what the synchronous firefly is, it’s a type of firefly with a big, white glow that–if left in the quiet and dark for long enough–will synchronize its flashes with the rest of the synchronous fireflies in the area. So you get hundreds of fireflies all flashing in unison, out in the darkness.

I wish I had a picture or video to show you of this, because it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. We sat out there for three hours, long after pretty much everyone else (including the guides) had headed home/back to their campsites. iPhone cameras just can’t capture that kind of magic though.

When we did walk back to the clearing where we’d parked, we were quiet and tired and ready to go flop down in our sleeping bags. But the moment we broke away from the treeline, we stopped and stared, eyes wide, tired lips quirked up in tired smiles–because there were more stars swirling away from us in the sky than I’ve possibly ever seen.

That entire night, it felt like we were living in a hyper-vivid dream–in that space between asleep and awake. It was all quiet, darkness punctured by pinpricks of light, fireflies that looked like shooting stars and stars that looked like resting fireflies.

I spent the drive back to the campsite with my forehead pressed to the car window, staring at the sky.

The next day, we packed up camp (again: SO PROUD OF US FOR WRANGLING THAT TENT) and headed out to a hiking area the lady at the visitor’s center suggested.

Of course, because we’re us, we got very lost and ended up trekking through a swamp for a while.


But then we eventually found the trail and it was GORGEOUS.

LOOK AT THIS COOL TREE GROWING OFF THE SIDE OF A HOUSE-SIZED BOULDER

We didn’t quite realize it while we were following the trail, but it led us to what appeared to be the top of a LITERAL MOUNTAIN (as in WE CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN) and it was SO BEAUTIFUL I CANNOT.


While we were trying to get a decent picture of the two of us at the overlook point, a group of guys hiking a different trail arrived, and while one took our picture we noticed that another was wearing a Michigan t-shirt. Our conversation basically went as follows:

Melissa: Oh, hey!

Me: Go blue!

Michigan Guy: What?

Melissa: We just graduated from there.

Michigan Guy: Really? Almost all of us are alums!

[We all proceed to swap war stories and talk classes]

Please note: we were out in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. We came across maybe ten people on our entire hike. And four of them were fellow Michigan graduates.

THIS ALWAYS HAPPENS. LIKE I KNOW IT’S AN UNDERSTATEMENT TO SAY WE HAVE A LOT OF ALUMNI. BUT STILL.

After talking with the guys for a bit, we headed back down the mountain.

And proceeded to get lost again.

I partially (mostly) blame this on the fact that there were no maps available ANYWHERE in the park (even the visitor’s center was out) and our phones didn’t have any signal, so we couldn’t even figure out where we were using Google Maps or anything.

The nice thing about doing stuff with Melissa, though, is that neither of us really mind getting lost, so it’s more fun than anything else. We ended up climbing through a bunch of cave-like rock formations and shimmying between trees and stuff, and it was great.

Luckily, however, we did eventually become un-lost and found the car again, where we proceeded to collapse and gulp water and generally be thankful for air conditioning. (Please note: it was over 90 degrees and sunny throughout this entire adventure.)

From there, we bid adieu to Pennsylvania and headed home. We made a stop at an Ohio Arby’s for food and much needed milkshakes (we hiked 6.5 miles, in the heat, up a mountain; we deserved it), and got sidelined by a downpour at one point, but soon enough we were back in Michigan–grateful for showers and beds, sure, but also missing the fireflies.

And that is the time we went to the Pennsylvania Firefly Festival.

img_2638-1
~Julia

 

On Adventuring

One of the things I’ve been focusing on this summer is not wasting days. 

I feel like this should always be a goal, but it can get hard during the day-to-day shuffle. Sometimes you’re truly just going to have too much homework, or paperwork, or whatever kind of work to be able to go off and do something fun. But since I’m only in New York City for two months, I’m doing my best to not fall into that same old pattern.

This doesn’t necessarily always mean going out and having a grand adventure. (That sounds exhausting.) But I am trying to do at least one thing for myself every day. Maybe I go to a museum or read in the park; maybe I watch a movie or get frozen yogurt with a friend. 

 

For example, I spent yesterday afternoon exploring the Guggenheim and Central Park. I got ice cream. I read by the sailboat pond. I let myself relax in the midst of everything.

 
The point is that I do something that makes me happy. Every single day.

And yes, this is slowing my usual productivity a little. But I’m enjoying my summer in this amazing city, and that matters too, right?

So, try it for yourself. Try to do one thing a day for the simple sake of making yourself happy. Let’s not waste any more days.

~Julia