quest for sparkles

the day after our 3 month anniversary, i went for a run on the beach and noticed what looked like shimmering glass marbles in the surf zone. upon closer examination i figured out that they were jelly blobs, and more specifically, ctenophores. i have had a love for ctenophores ever since i learned about them in my 20s, and witnessed some of their more magical tricks like bioluminescence. the ones i found seem to be a non-bioluminescent species, i think from the genus pleurobrachia, but they still made rainbow shimmery sparkles as they floated in the vessel in which i whisked them back to my lab in order to peek at them under the microscope and watch them moving their cilia and tentacles to my heart’s content. (since they were gasping their final whatever-is-analagous-to-breath-for-an-invertebrate, i felt ok about scooping a few up out of the sand and plopping them into some water before their inevitable demise.)

i looked back at my 2011 post about bioluminescence, and it made me smile, because so many of the things coming to mind to say about it, i have already said. memory loss is special. at least i remembered that i did write a post. to review:

  1. all cells bioluminesce! including our own, though most do so in a range that is outside of our vision;
  2. dolphins swimming through glowing waves are stunningly pretty, and walking on the stars, on beach sand full of bioluminescent dinoflagellates, was our college pastime;
  3. there’s a long list of unanswered questions in the science of bioluminescence and i am content to leave room for the mystery;
  4. choose your own glowing totem, or as 4 year old quinn would say, spirit guy, and let it inspire you to shine your light.

while trying to identify my gelatinous friends, i learned about the role they play in regulating the food web. as predators of other smaller zooplankton, they can keep copepods from overgrazing the phytoplankton. the marine ecosystem exists in delicate balance. i would bet that their turning up in numbers on a sunny day in october was just part of the ebb and flow of maintaining that balance.

even though my little sea gooseberries aren’t bioluminescent, they did put on a fabulous flickering rainbow show for me under the microscope, their rows of cilia waving like so many prayer flags in a breeze.

in my 2011 post i referred to a trip into a bioluminescent bay in la parguera, puerto rico. here is my journal entry following that sparkly nightswimming magic. and while we’re humming r.e.m. songs, this passage feels half a world away, both in geographic distance, and in the fact that i was half my current age when i wrote it:


“our watch began at 7:00 but was pleasantly interrupted not long after it began by our quest for sparkles with captain pepe. this is one place I have to bring lauren someday, because although these aren’t purple sparkles, they sure are amazing. we drove in the boats for about 20 minutes to get to the spot, all the way singing “on top of old smoky” and “found a peanut” and playing telephone and the animal game (moose) which was a riot. (ribbit ribbit quack quack meow sss!) when we got there, people started jumping in the water, and you could see their hands and feet moving as they tread water. it was a muddy bottom and only about 3 or 4 feet deep. we all had on our masks and we watched our hands move and light up and sparkle as they moved through the water. it was so magical. if you lifted your arms out, they sparkled for a moment. the sparkles clung to hair and bathing suits especially well, and my black swimsuit sparkled as I climbed back on the boat. for the first few minutes of the ride home, we were totally silent, like we had just witnessed something extraordinary. it’s the things like that, which seem unnecessary but add so much, which make me just as sure as ever that this world is not random.”

i read recently that bioluminescent bays around puerto rico (there are only a handful) may have been affected by the recent hurricane. considering all the rest of the hardships they are going through, it would be yet another loss. as so many there are living without light, it would be sad if their glowing bays were to go dark as well.

on the evening of october 24th, the next day after i brought stray ctenophores home from the beach, i walked outside to find my husband standing in the front yard. it is not uncommon for me to encounter him this way, and as soon as i stood beside him and he put his arm around me and we both looked up, a gigantic shooting star streaked across the sky above us. “is that what you wanted me to come outside for?” i asked, and he answered in the affirmative.

rich and i have already lined up a date for july 28, 2061, just after our 44th wedding anniversary, to watch halley’s comet, whose tail is responsible for the orionid meteor shower from which our shooting star originated, return to the inner solar system. he’ll be 91 and i’ll be 83. we won’t talk about how old we each were in 1986 when we both remember seeing it the last time. (awkward!) gazing into the vastness of the universe has a way of rendering minor age differences completely irrelevant anyway. december 2061 will mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of our quest for sparkles together, which will be a very sparkly-twinkly time indeed. not that we’re in any hurry! we are enjoying the fiery bits of comet tail we get to witness in the meantime.

what’s 8 earth years in the grand scheme of things, really?

now that there are more hours of darkness than light again, and the abrupt shift away from daylight savings makes the available light feel even more scarce, i find myself yearning for light all the more. just when my need for light intensifies, a bright light streaking across the sky, and a little reminder that i carry light in my own cells is just what i need.

i suppose that is where this post came from; it’s my attempt to generate my own light to shine into this darkness and be a rainbow, like my little spirit guy ctenophores, and bend that light into a spectrum of colors.

2 comments to quest for sparkles

  • camp boss

    oh how I enjoyed this little science lesson!!!! it is times like this that I am so so glad that God made us all different and unique. And that Providence has helped us to be sisters. because I can cross learn something new today off my list and I haven’t even had my morning tea yet!!! Love you and your wonderful mind, and that husband of yours isn’t too bad either! 😉

  • mary beth! so cool! how fun to look at the world through your eyes. i would not have noticed something so incredible during a beach run. what a beautiful post about light and so many creative places to find it.

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