Home > About > Bill Peak's Library Column > New Worlds at the Talbot County Free Library
You may not remember, but on September 6 of this year it rained all day long, a slow, steady, gentle rain—the sort of rain Tony Hillerman's Navajos call “a lady rain.” As it happened, somewhere in the middle of that night, I got up to use the bathroom, glanced out our bedroom window, and saw something I'd never seen before. As the features of our side yard (the stand of lilies just opposite the window, the swale behind them that separates our house from the woods, the compost heap that rests at the edge of those woods, and then the darker mass of the woods themselves) emerged slowly from the gloom, I realized I was seeing what looked like a lightning bug glowing at the base of the compost. After a moment or two, the light dimmed and went out. Then it glowed again. But it couldn't be a lightning bug; it was far too late in the year for lightning bugs. And unlike a lightning bug, when this thing flipped the switch, its bulb continued to burn much longer than any lightning bug's I'd ever seen. And it remained stationary. It never moved, it never flew. What in the heck was this?
Even as I thought this thought, a second light swelled into existence about three feet away from the first. The first immediately flared anew, and then, as if some natural circuit had been completed, two new lights blinked on in the grass just above the compost heap--the four of them now delineating the corners of an otherwise invisible polygon in the misty darkness of our side yard.
Entranced, I forgot all about my mission to the head and continued to stare out the window. As I watched, a second set of lights began to warm up in the lilies just opposite me, and then a third out in the front yard proper. Soon, it was as if I were staring not down at our lawn but up at the night sky, a small universe of miniature constellations winking in and out of existence in the darkness before me.
The next day, I made a beeline to our library's resident expert on all things six-legged, Dr. Ted Suman—long-time volunteer and retired entomologist. But when I told him what I had seen, Ted was as mystified as I. Which, truth be told, I found rather thrilling. This man was a true scientist; he had spent his entire life learning everything he could get his hands on about Hymenoptera, Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, and all the other -opteras out there possessed of exoskeleton, antennae, and a brain the size of, well, a flea's ear ... yet I had found something in my own yard that he couldn't identify. Who knew, maybe it was a species new to science!
For the next few nights, every time I got up to go to the bathroom (yes, I am that age), I would check to see if the little world of lights outside my window had reignited. But, alas, I never saw them again. Sometimes, when I would lie back down, I couldn't help wondering if I had imagined the whole thing, if it might have just been a dream. But no, even dreams as vivid as mine could not have produced something as crisp and clear as the tiny, blue-green pulses of organic light I remembered seeing that night. And as I lay there, recalling those lights, they began to seem to me not so much an illustration of the night sky as one of the mind: neurons firing here and there upon a darkened plane, synapses connecting, disengaging, reconnecting; thoughts racing to and fro. Who knew what messages had been transmitted and received by a tiny alien race that, it seemed, had flickered into and out of existence on a damp September night in our side yard?
Which it may (or may not) surprise you to learn got me to thinking about the library. We all need a little mystery in our lives, the sure knowledge that no knowledge is sure, that there is much still to be learned, still to be discovered, that mysteries abound. And I can think of no place that better illustrates this happy fact than the Talbot County Free Library. Every time I go there, every time I look out at its storied aisles, I feel a twinge of excitement, the certainty that great discoveries await me. I have worked in our community library for more than a decade now, and I still find something new and utterly unexpected on its shelves almost every day. Somewhere out there (probably in non-fiction's 590's) there is an answer to the mystery of the animalcules that glowed in my side yard on that night back in September. Almost certainly, someone somewhere has long since identified those tiny entities. Someday I may find the book that explains it all. Someday I may not. Call me nuts, but both possibilities please me.
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