Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bioluminescence all over

A couple weeks ago I had the delight of spending 4 days on an island off the coast of Maine with some old dear friends, and a whole passel of new ones. The crowd was mostly adults, people who care about the natural world, ready to embrace the chance to enjoy the wonders of creation on this wilderness vacation together.

Despite being surrounded by 9-foot tides, granite boulder cobbled beaches, harbor seals visible on far shores, and interesting birds on the water (who saw the guillemot?) – nothing created such a stir as the announcement Rose made around the campfire one night.

“Have you seen the bioluminescence?”


“You HAVE to go. Take my canoe – just go!”

Thus began the frenzy. In the span of 24 hours, nearly every guest had either paddled a canoe in pitch blackness or simply plunged into the 60-degree water to experience the wonder of it – glowing sparkles that moved with the currents, lighting like fireflies any time the water was disturbed. We were told that they were dinoflagellates, micro-organisms that show themselves during the months of August & September when the conditions are right. But that barely mattered – we were mesmerized and needed to share this phenomenon with everyone on the island.

As soon as each “convert” would leave the water, they would dash off to find someone – anyone- who perchance had not yet seen the magic and glory. “Have you seen the bioluminescence?” became the new greeting in our world of wonders.


This morning I had the delight of leading two groups of preschoolers in the woods for an hour. We sang songs, told a story, and built upon our “nest” shelter. But mostly we explored the woods around us. And, as my co-instructor stated – it was like bioluminescence all over the place.

Every single hole or burrow, red, orange, or green leaf was cause for exclamations and celebration. They would yell to their friends and teachers to share in their discovery and joy. Upon finding a fuzzy white caterpillar, one little girl would not let the group leave until every single person had experienced it. “We found a creature!” one little boy shouted.

Snail-pace crawling to examine a spider web, then lightening-speed dashes to be the first to climb on a stump – we scoured the small woods-plot. In the next moment, they were off again – approaching the world fully expecting to find amazing treasures all around.

After my time with these young ones, I returned to our program office to check emails and answer phone calls. As I kicked off my muddy shoes, I pondered – there was no need to feign enthusiasm or ask the children to share their excitement. Is it in our nature to wonder, and is it in our nature to need to share this wonder in order to fully experience it? What can we learn from these little ones?

Perhaps in our genes or in our cultural memory there exists some need to maintain this balance – each wonder shared before another can be absorbed. What if we lose our ability to experience wonder as we stifle our awe and amazement?

So perhaps community is a tool – a tool to draw you toward wonders and point out fuzzy creatures, but also a tool to extract the wonders from your hands, a container to hold it for you - freeing you to go dive in and find more.

Heidi Bardy lives with her partner in a yurt outside of Ithaca N.Y. and spends many days of the year in the forest getting dirty with children through her work with Primitive Pursuits.