Flashing lights

24 July 2013
Woods Hole, Massachusetts

A fat, rosy moon sat low on the horizon.  I sat low on a rock jetty at high tide.  I listened to the small waves rush to shore like a herd of children to an ice cream truck.  The water glittered with moonlight and porchlights.  Then there was a flash in the rocks.  A life-light.  Bioluminescence!  

Normally I would tell you all about the science of bioluminescence, but I would rather that both you and I enjoy the beauty of the mystery than the beast of the facts.  I will tell you that the flash of green came from a walnut-sized comb jelly called Mnemiopsis leidyi, which is found along the eastern and gulf coasts of the United States.  I have no pictures, but I do have my words.  

 Mnemiopsis (nim-e-op-sis) put on a show for me in Pass Christian, Mississippi (see previous post for a note about another comb jelly), the summer after Hurricane Katrina shoved a 30-foot tidal surge into the flanks of coastal Mississippi.  The words below are from an essay I wrote about Katrina and a walk I took with Mama. 

“Because Katrina had swept away all of the artificial luminescence along Hwy 90, my imagination was carried away by a star-filled sky.  Not even an eyelash of the moon was visible, so I witnessed a deep, dark sky of velvet embedded with an infinite number of diamonds.  I stood at the seaward edge of the beach, where small waves lapped at my feet and tugged at the sand like a child who tugs at my pants to get my attention.  As the small waves bit into the sand, bursts of green light danced on the beach as though the ocean was chewing on a wintergreen Lifesavers in the dark.  The pulsating lights were small comb jellies exploding in screams of green as their gelatinous bodies struck the sand like a digital equalizer keeping the astronomical rhythm of the tides.  There seemed to be a competition of brilliance between the oceanic orchestra of bioluminescence and the twinkling atmospheric ceiling.”


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