But when you're a kid, most such fears are, as yet, unlearned. And things like awe and wonder tend to fall a little closer to home.
We and our 20 or so fellow passengers hung over the bow railing and saw our bow waves filled with millions of little blue-green pinpoints of light
SMEARS OF LIGHT AND LIFE
I'll never forget the first time I encountered fireflies. While living at our family’s summer house, I’d find them on those cricket-pulsing, sultry nights in the hay fields down by the St. Croix River. My parents let me keep a few in a jar. From this I learned not just about phosphorescence, but also a little about life and death.
I'm not proud of this, but, as a ten-year-old boy, my curiosity sometimes trumped respect. My experiments with fireflies included squashing them and rubbing the glowing goo on my clothes, where it shone for a few seconds longer than the poor creatures’ lives.
HYPNOTIZED IN THE SEA OF CORTEZMy wife’s dad was a navy man. He’s told us of seeing the entire wake of his minesweeper aglow with phosphorescent plankton stirred up by the vessel’s night passage through the South Pacific.
I thought that experience, as phosphorescence stories go, would surely have to take the cake. Until, that is, my wife and I were lucky enough to discover the Searcher and its fantastic natural history cruises from San Diego around the Baja Peninsula.
Late one night, while we were motoring in the calm, deserted Sea of Cortez, the captain of the 95-foot boat came on the P.A. system and announced that he and the crew were seeing some good phosphorescence from the bridge and that we might want to head out on deck to check it out.
The glow of a single firefly can be your ticket to wonder.
Maintaining cruising speed, he turned off the Searcher’s lights. In near-total darkness, we and our 20 or so fellow passengers hung over the bow railing, looked down and saw our bow waves filled with millions of little blue-green pinpoints of light, enough to completely light up not just the water, but the sides of the hull as well. It was absolutely mesmerizing. We watched in reverent silence for nearly 20 minutes.
As some of our fellow travelers headed back inside, Sally and I still couldn’t get enough of the hypnotic glow and gurgle of those bow waves. Suddenly, several large streaks of churning light emerged, like so many comets, from the watery darkness on both sides of the boat and streaked toward the bow.
|Illustration: Katy Farina|
After about ten minutes lacing in and out of our bow waves, our living comets peeled off from the bow one by one and launched themselves back into their own deep, dark universe.
HAVE YOU SEEN THE LIGHT?We were so fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time for such a powerful, magical experience! But one needn't witness a celestial dolphin light show in the Sea of Cortez to appreciate the wonder of phosphorescence. If you let it, the glow of a single firefly can be your ticket to wonder.
Have you had any magical encounters with phosphorescence?
Let us know!