Living Light


When I am 85 (or whatever the life expectancy is by the time I'm old enough to worry about it) and lying on my deathbed with my past flashing before my eyes, one of the highlights I will surely see will be the night I went swimming in the stars. Not under them, in them. I was still in college, camped out with friends in a rickety rented beach house in the Outer Banks, on the coast of North Carolina. After a barbecue one night, someone got the idea to run fully clothed into the ocean "“ alright, it might have been me "“ fine, it was me "“ and the dozen of us all eventually jumped in. Until we were all flailing about in the warm waves, none of us noticed we had company. Then I lifted my arm out of the water and saw that everything "“ my arm, the water, our clothes, our skin "“ was sparkling, a mirror of the vast clear sky above. We had jumped right into a crowd of bioluminescent plankton, and though we were just a bunch of boisterous, slightly drunken kids, we all suddenly fell silent in awe of the universe.

90 percent of deep-sea marine lifeforms produce some kind of bioluminescence, but humans rarely get to experience it in such a fantastic fashion. That is why I am fiercely jealous of the people of Toyama Bay on the west coast of Japan. Not only are they graced with mirages on a regular basis thanks to accidents of temperature "“ the ocean, filled with snow, is so much colder than the warm air above it that people see forests of shimmering silver "trees" on the horizon "“ from now until June they can take sightseeing boats into the bay to see the famous cobalt-blue bioluminescent Firefly Squid rising to the water's surface. I don't believe in God, but if I wanted to argue for his existence, I'd hold up these exquisite glowing creatures as Exhibit A.