I bet you know a person who just sparkles from the inside. These seemingly rare and beautiful souls brighten your outlook on life just by their very proximity. Even when you think of them, your face gets a soft smile, your shoulders relax, and you get a momentary far-away look in your eye, as though just the thought of this sparkly person can transport you onto their other-worldly plane of existence.
You probably have heard about other beings that have that inner sparkle. Summer on the northern portion of the West Coast gives many opportunities to see a sparkly being. Actually, there are several sparkly beings all around, you just have to get away from the cities and towns with their light pollution. Lightening bugs, aka fireflies, are a sparkly being that I have seen in the Sam Houston National Forest. This phenomenon is called bioluminescence and it is when the organism actually produces light energy via a chemical reaction. The chemical, luciferin, (you know there has to be some Lucifer joke here) reacts with oxygen.
Bioluminescence- everyone’s doing it!
Tons of critters in the sea can make their own light. Different bacteria, algae, jellyfish, plankton, and some fish, just to name a few. Maybe you have seen pictures of these gorgeous glowing beings. But have you ever seen them in real life? Me, either.
But that is about to change!
Here on the Olympic Peninsula, we have a few months of possible bioluminescence viewing along the Pacific Coast. You have to make sure the conditions are just right: warm daily temperatures, sunny days, a viewing location far, far away from any light pollution, and the ability to be awake from around 1:00 until about 3:30 in the morning while still functioning as a cordial and coherent adult the next day.
If you have those conditions, you can head out to one of the beaches and take a late-night walk. You have to walk in the complete dark, though, so it’s better to find a place to sit and then put all electronics and other light sources away in a bag to let your eyes fully adjust to the darkness.
You are looking for a blue-green, almost turquoise, glow in the water. While the critters who make light can do so in a variety of colors, the blue-green is most common in the ocean because of its shorter wavelength which can travel through water more easily.
I went out on my very first foray to see the “lume” and I am here to let you know exactly
how not to do it.
First, I had thought that the beach closest to me would be a good spot. Note the italics for what I did wrong. I suppose it is a good location if you can get far enough away from the little town there. Little towns make plenty of light pollution This would mean walking a few miles up the beach which is something best done at low tide. It was high tide that night You should also be prepared to have raccoons pestering you, expecting you to have food they can steal. Even if you don’t have snacks, be prepared to hear them scampering around and don’t freak out because they sound like bears in the night Bring extra layers of clothing because it gets quite chilly, especially when you are just sitting near the damp ocean and it is 42 degrees. No lie, nights get pretty cool up here! And bring something to sit on. Driftwood gets damp and cold.
Another reason to get at least a couple of miles away from the parking area is to avoid other night-beachers who may not share your desire for complete darkness. Even though bonfires are not allowed in much of the National Park, some people still like to light up the night. When I was there, as I was heading back to my vehicle, someone in a truck came up to the parking lot and attempted to drive up and over the huge gravel “sea wall.” I was transfixed as I watched them back up and make a run at climbing the loose rock. Surely, they had to know what was on the other side of the gravel wall, I thought to myself. The other side of the wall is the ocean, yes, and between the sea wall and the ocean is a beach littered with enormous driftwood, old bus-sized logs that have been washed down the cliffs and placed temporarily on the beach. While I didn’t want the driver of the truck to get hurt, I really hoped that he could make it over the wall just to see what was on the other side. Fortunately, they truck gave up and hurtled off into the night to explore other areas of this magical place. I watched the taillights as it wound up the road and disappeared into the forest.
Now I have my plan for a couple of weeks from now. I’ve checked and the tides, the moon, and hopefully the weather will all be perfect. I’ve scouted out some other locations along the coast far, far away from lights. I’ll practice my night photography and keep my fingers crossed!
Here is the little bit of bioluminescence I did see. This photo is enhanced to make it show up a little better but you get the gist.
Well, here’s to second chances! I’ll be sure to let you know how the second foray into the seeking of sparkles turns out!
And, just for reading this far, you can check out the video I made of the attempt. Thank you!