It was a mundane summer night. Garrett had spent the day's hours in solitude upon his sailboat in Greenwich Cove as I worked away mine in a downtown Newport t-shirt shop. The midnight hour struck, and as I locked up the shop I momentarily struggled with the decision of driving two minutes down the road to my bed or 25 minutes to meet Garrett on his boat. I chose the latter because, well, that's what you do when you're in love.
So over both bridges and through the woods I went in the dark quiet of the night. Garrett called to ask when I’d be arriving; he was excited to show me something. He couldn’t tell me about it, though, he said. It was purely something that I would have to wait and see.
When I arrived, Garrett was waiting on shore, practically bouncing from foot to foot with excitement. We piled ourselves into the one-person kayak—yes, kayak—and pushed off into the cove. I sat on Garrett’s lap, knees high to my chin, as he navigated our way through the water with the paddle.
"Look down,” he advised me.
I didn’t see anything. I told him so.
“Just keep looking down. Watch where the paddle hits the water.”
And then I saw it, the most awe-inspiring thing: as our paddle hit the water, what seemed hundreds of neon green sparks bounced away. Mesmerized, I asked him to do it again. And again. My head turned like a tennis spectator’s from side to side, watching as every stroke took to the water. With every stroke, the sparks returned. The night sky and sea were black, but at the tip of our paddle, neon green sparks abounded.
Garrett explained the phenomenon to me as what I now know as bioluminescence, an emission of light by process of a chemical reaction. It is most commonly used by creatures for offensive, defensive, or attractive purposes.
In our case, the luminescing creatures were jellyfish—the night tide washed them into the bay in massive quantities. We assumed that the jellyfish were acting in defense to our paddle’s disturbance. As they were defending themselves against our paddle, and not our flesh, we were able to appreciate the show that they were putting on.
We didn’t stop for a moment to realize that we were sitting merely inches above the waterline of a cove filled with thousands, yes, thousands, of jellyfish. We only noticed the wonderful beauty that was happening around us. No words escaped our lips, breath barely flew from our lungs. The only sound to be heard was the whooshing of the water being pushed behind us.
Through the water in our tiny kayak we quietly glided, flanked by a sea illuminated by flashes of light. What was a regular 5 minute trip to the boat became a 20 minute journey, a journey where Garrett and I understood that we were together receiving a beautiful gift from nature. When we reached the sailboat, we sat in silence for a minute more. As we had no further use for the paddle, we let the jellyfish be. The water swallowed the light and all was black once again.
We arose from our peace and faced the realization that we’d have to stand in the kayak, one at a time, to hoist ourselves over the boat’s edge. Standing in a kayak is no easy feat, mind you, especially when you are surrounded by waters engulfed in jellyfish. The mistake of shining our flashlight on the water’s surface was made, revealing a stretch as far as the eye could see filled with brown jellyfish.
They weren’t going away, and Garrett was trapped beneath me. I took a deep breath, slowly rose to my feet, and grabbed onto the boat. My heart quickened until my mind admonished it to not be afraid of something that had been so beautiful just a moment earlier. I pulled myself up and fell ungracefully into the aft. Garrett secured the kayak and leapt into his boat. We peered over the edge together and watched the sea of plain jellyfish float by. Our light show was over.