Friday, July 13, 2012
Just before we left Puerto Rico, we took a canoe trip to a bio-luminescent bay -- 'luminescent' meaning 'all lit up' and 'bio' meaning 'a class you will fail if you don't make at least one appearance during the semester.' Everything I really needed to know I learned in detention.
Now, the best way to experience a bio-luminescent bay is to go on a moonless night. It needs to be crazy dark in order for you to see the lights created by millions of micro-organisms in the water.
It's also advisable to take a guide, but when we rented our boat the 'guides' all said, "No. Is too dark," which of course led me to question their grasp of the finer points of supply-side economics, namely, 'if you don't supply a guide, all but the stupidest of gringos will spend their hard-earned economics on suntan lotion.'
So, we decided to go to the bay on our own, our reasons being we were moving away soon and we already had very nice tans.
To get to the bay, however, we had to paddle down a winding tributary that was covered on both sides with mangroves, which also formed a thick canopy above us. Between the absence of moon and the presence of mangroves, it was insanely dark. Uber dark. The kind of dark that SpongeBob is referring to when he says, "This is advanced darkness, Patrick."
You with me? Dark.
Fortunately, friends had recommended we bring a powerful flashlight, and contrary to our basic natures, we took their advice.
So there were the six of us: Brett manned the oars, the older kids took turns sitting in the bow ('front' or 'scary spot') and holding the flashlight, and I navigated.
We have since learned that things go better when I drive and Brett navigates.
My job was essentially to say, "Go left, you know, a teeny bit," and other complicated nautical stuff you landlubbers wouldn't understand. And I was really good at it, in a retroactive sort of way. A typical exchange went something like this:
Brett: "Hey, Vanessa, shine the light over there."
Vanessa: "Why? We're just going to die out here anyway."
Brett: "David, please relieve Vanessa of her flashlight duties and lock her in the brig."
Me: "Honey, I think there's something ..."
Canoe: "Crash, wobble, tip."
Me: "Yep. That was a sunken boat or perhaps a crocodile. Probably shouldn't have run over it."
Brett: "Assorted recriminations against the navigator."
And then we'd do it all again three feet later.
This went on for ... hang on, I'm trying to remember how it felt ... yes, this went on for six years as we bumped and splashed our way through the dark, stifling tunnel of mangroves. Kids were bawling, I was swearing, and Brett was paddling with the bloody-minded determination that has possessed husbands and fathers for millennia, the sort that says, "We'll have fun, dammit, if it kills every last one of you."
And just when we were at the end of our tether, just when we were certain we'd taken a wrong turn and were now rowing down the river Styx -- the mangroves disappeared behind us and we emerged into the bay.
At first, it seemed like the flashlight had gone out; without the trees bouncing light onto the water and back to us, we were suddenly left in complete darkness. There was still no moon, and the flashlight had dimmed to near uselessness. We always knew the flashlight was all that made the trip possible in the first place, but it wasn't until the light was gone that we realized how vulnerable we were.
But what could we do at that point? We paddled on.
We were just a few strokes into the bay, beyond which the black, open ocean stretched forever, when a strange and beautiful thing happened. The water all around the canoe filled with thousands of tiny lights. The light clung to the oars and trailed behind us.
The kids dipped their hands into the water, thrilled with how the light traced each finger. Finally, Cori the Brave and Brett the Forgiving dove into the bay, leaving the rest of us awestruck at how we could make out their bodies perfectly, even in the dark, moonless night.
It seems that the micro-organisms in the water light up whenever they come in contact with anything else. Once we knew what to look for, we could see fish, and the movement of water plants, deep at the bottom of the bay. Sometimes it was a flash, sometimes a soft glow.
I've never seen anything like it, before or since. It was pure magic.
One light got us to the bay, and while it took a few moments of darkness where we just had to keep moving, it wasn't long until we could see for ourselves that the light was all around us.
In the deepest, darkest places, everything, everywhere we touched, there was light.
Posted by DeNae Handy at 5:05 PM