By Roy D. Hawkins
I was completely aghast when my daughter Jenny announced we were going to spend an evening on our annual family trip to Smoky Mountain National Park watching fireflies at the Elkmont Campground. Nor could I believe it when she said access to the area was limited and tickets were required to gain entrance after five o’clock in the afternoon. At that time the road would be closed, and observers taken into the area by shuttle. According to her information, the fireflies put on an unbelievable show every night in early June. I was strongly tempted to ask “who cares” for I had seen lightning bugs on countless summer evenings when I was growing up on the farm. Needless to say, I could hardly hide my delight a couple of days later when she discovered the tickets were already sold out. I thought I was home free, but I hadn’t counted on the resourcefulness of my offspring. A day later Jenny announced that she and my son, Jody, had rented a campsite at Elkmont which automatically gave us access to the area, and therefore we would get to see the fireflies after all. Joy! Joy! However, we would of course have to pay for the campsite, which meant that indirectly we would still spend good money to see the current crop of lightning bugs. Unbelievable!
In the end though, like a good father and grandfather, I, in order to keep peace in the family, agreed to go along with the plan, (Indeed I had little choice) provided the boys and I could fish as usual until the middle of the afternoon on the day of the great safari. Thus, an entire Thursday would not be lost in the ridiculous venture. So, the morning of the day the event was scheduled actually began on a high note as the boys and I set out on our first fishing jaunt of the trip. Jim and Hayes, my son in law and grandson, chose to fish upper LeCante Creek for Brook Trout, while Jody and I each fished a section of another of our favorite streams, the Roaring Fork. Things brightened considerably when I hooked and landed a nice Rainbow on my first cast. The fishing continued to be good all morning. I took a total of fourteen trout, including some very nice fish. In fact some of them were above average for the small streams of the Great Smoky Mountains. All my trout were caught on either the Tellico Nymph or the Prince Nymph, which I fished at the same time on a tandem rig. When we met for lunch, I discovered Jody had done even better with seventeen rainbows. Although the limit in the park is five fish per day, anglers are permitted to continue fishing until they actually have five fish in possession. Thus, we were completely legal since we release all our trout.
After lunch Jody and I drove to Elkmont and met Hayes and Jim. They too had had a very good morning on the LeCante with the brook trout. After checking in at the camp ground, where our site was right on the bank of the Little River, we decided to fish a couple of hours more while we waited on the ladies to arrive. Jody and I caught a few rainbows and browns in Jake’s creek. This small stream runs into the Little River at the upper end of the campground, and is another of my favorites. Hayes and Jim fished the Little River itself and took several Rainbows. We were back at our campsite in time to meet the girls on their arrival in the middle of the afternoon.
Once my wife Patsy, along with Jenny our daughter, Julie, our daughter in law, and our granddaughters, Halea, Sadie Kate, and McKenna got there, we broke out the lawn chairs, and just took it easy. The boys and I needed a rest anyway after having climbed over boulders and up mountains while we were fishing. Late in the day, Jody, who is a master at grilling, fired up the grill, and began preparing hamburgers and hot dogs for the evening meal. I believe they were the best I ever had, certainly far superior to any turned out by the fast food industry. After eating, we pulled up our chairs and sat around the fire, just enjoying having all ten (The birth of Jackson Adams “Jay” Hawkins on May 4, 2016 made it eleven) members of our family together in the mountains for the first time since McKenna became ill with leukemia in 2012. She is fine now however and as always there was something special about gathering around a campfire!
Finally, just before dusk, we picked up our chairs and walked several hundred yards up the road that parallels Jake’s creek to an open spot in the woods. Here we set up to watch the lighting bugs. Many other people joined us and I found myself sitting by a gentleman who was originally from upstate New York, and therefore a Yankee by birth. He turned out to be a very nice fellow, apparently having been in the south long enough to become acclimated to southern ways. At any rate, he and I had a very delightful visit while we waited for the lightning bugs to arrive.
As darkness approached, a firefly appeared here and there, and I thought, yep, it’s going to be just what I thought it would be, nothing more than an occasional lighting bug turning on his lamp from time to time as I had seen them do numerous times at home. Then it happened! As the last light faded, thousands upon thousands of fireflies appeared, lighting up the night like a Fourth of July fireworks display. In all my days afield, I have never seen nature offer up a more impressive sight! Total silence fell over the scene as those present watched in absolute awe. It was truly a worshipful experience to see what the God of Creation wrought with the lowly firefly! My friends, there are gatherings of fireflies by the dozen, and there are gatherings of fireflies by the thousands. That Thursday night, we saw them gather by the ten thousand, perhaps even by the hundred thousand. The show reached its peak about 9:30 pm local time. Soon after that, we picked up our chairs, and returned to the campsite using the small flashlights we’d brought along to find our way. It was the end of a truly perfect day