8.2 Fireflies √

I'd first created fireflies for my White River & Northern II. It went like this: I inserted a few hundred fiber optic strands in a field made from thin foam rubber; the fibers stuck out of the ground like weeds, and I painted them green, then I filled in around them with other vegetation. The other end of the fibers were connected to a mechanism that slowly moved yellow-green lights past the fibers. The result was strikingly realistic, and I've wanted to reproduce the effect ever since. Now I may have the chance.

Above is an ancient print of the field after planting the fibers but before adding the vegetation, and below is the mechanism. I used the same device to make a campfire effect as well, which I may one day also reproduce. The copper-colored discs contain colored lights, and rotate within the black frames, which holds the fibers in a flat ring around the discs. The device was quite complex: each disc contained several layers of lights, which would come on in sequence to make it appear the fireflies were growing in number.

For my new version, I've devised an all-electronic solution. Several Christmases ago, after the season ended, I found a slew of "falling star" effect icicle lights on sale for dirt cheap, so I bought out two stores' worth and dismantled them (below left), thinking I'd use them for a fireworks display I'd never built. Around the same time, I'd stockpiled hundreds of yellow-green 3mm LEDs (below right) I'd intended to use for a 1:1 rock garden display I'd never built. Fast-forward to 24 April 2020, and I'm seeing all of this as the perfect way to make a "solid state" 1:160 animated firefly effect, since they blink on and then fade out gently, with a nice delay before the sequence repeats.

Each unit (above left) is relatively easy to dismantle and break down to its core component: a PC board with all of the electronics. Within a few minutes, I had a bunch of my yellow-green LEDs wired up to a board and winking away (above right).

The next step was to assemble the illumination modules. This involved bending the leads for 140 LEDs to various shapes, soldering them to the 20 modules, and testing them (above left). Then I drilled #76 holes in the ends of the 140 LEDs. After building a "rack" to hold the modules (above right), I installed the fiber optic fibers in all of the LEDs (below), at which point the whole bizarre-looking contraption was ready to install on the layout.


During the film photography era, I'd photographed fireflies for many years; I'd make exposures of up to an hour or more and capture millions of "winks" on each frame. In the digital era, I've not yet found a way to replicate the same kinds of magical images, but it probably doesn't matter, because others have done just what I did.

The saddest thing I've learned recently is that fireflies face extinction. Between habitat loss, light pollution, pesticides, global warming and a host of other manmade issues, we're killing them off. As a species, we are shortsighted morons, and I loathe what we're doing to our planet more than anything else. I'm actually glad I'll be dead soon, because I'd miss these dear creatures painfully. This time around, I'm creating my firefly effect as a paean to what we'll soon lose...

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