We came to see the bio-phosphorescence -- that amazing phenomena of light producing plankton in the brackish water where salt and fresh water mix. We dragged our kayaks through the fetid mud of the mangrove. To me it smelled foul, but Anne, my friend and guide, assured me that was just the odor of a working Mangrove doing it’s job of breaking down organic material. But wait a minute, I thought to myself, isn’t that precisely what a septic tank does?
Joe Taylor Creek was small – only 50 feet wide at the start, soon narrowing to only 15 feet -- barely room to do a turn around with our kayaks. As we paddled up-creek, the lush rainforest closed in, around, and above us like a think green cocoon. The ropelike vines hung high above and dropped into the water beside us like something out of a Tarzan movie. On the creek bank, tiny pencil thin roots pushed up out of the ground packed together tightly as warp on a carpet. This was the “White” mangrove. Roots from the trees along both banks come out of the water forming cage-like structures with little crabs scurrying up and down the roots. This was the “Red” mangrove. I found myself hoping that one of those little crabs wouldn’t fall into my kayak.
Night was falling and the mosquitoes and other attacking bugs had come out in full force, buzzing and dive-bombing looking for fresh white meat. Night sounds began – the crickets, the frogs, the birds and those indistinguishable sounds of night of something there in the brush, just outside my field of vision.
I was in Punta Gorda as a volunteer. With more than a half of a century of life experience, I was realizing a lifelong dream of opening a clinic in a third world country. However, the sweltering weather and primitive living conditions coupled with the disparities of Belize time versus North American time as a daily source of frustration had stolen my sense of wonder of the beauty of the country, not to mention my sense of humor. It had almost stolen my dream.
But, this night Anne promised spectacular phenomena we could not see when we return to our Midwestern home, so we put work aside and came to partake in the phosphorescent light show. She guaranteed a display I wouldn’t easily forget. She was absolutely right.
As darkness settled around us, we paddled by the light of the stars and the crescent moon that could hold water. At first I could see only a few sparkles as I moved my kayak through the water. Stirring the water by hand brought a few more flickers. I was disappointed. I came expecting fireworks. “It’s not yet dark enough, Anne explained, be patient.”
Just as promised, later, when night grew pitch-black night around us, the spectacle began. Brilliant fluorescent balls of fire rolled off my paddle as I stroked. When I dipped my hand into the water, sparkling droplets fell like diamonds from my fingers. Leaning over the side of my kayak and looking deep into the water below I saw twinkling beads of light glittering as if a miniature Milky Way were beneath me.
As I stroked my paddle though the water a magical ripple of light followed the stroke like a wave in slow motion. My perception was altered. I was another dimension. Time stood still. There was a miracle happening in the water right under my kayak. I was mesmerized by the sensual quality to the movement of the lights. As I drew circles in the water with my finger, a ring of fire appeared. B
But all too soon, sadly, it was time to go. I reluctantly paddled back down the creek to the place where it meets the sea. We crossed the Bay of Honduras. The sea rocked me gently as I paddled in silence, breathing to the rhythm of the rise and the fall of the gentle ancient Caribbean.
The magic was over, but I was awestruck. I had witnessed a miracle. From that night forward I have known with great certainty, that whenever I feel annoyed with life’s little discomforts or frustrations, whether I am in a village in Belize, or in my own Midwestern home, I can simply close my eyes, let my spirit soar and remember that night when time stood still, as I played with the glittering, glistening, Saint Elmo’s fire of Joe Taylor Creek in the night.
It puts everything into perspective.
by Nancy Leigh Harless
by Nancy Leigh Harless