Night Tales

I recently went on my annual family vacation, and this time things were a little different.

First, my boyfriend came with us. I’ve never had someone to bring along before, and he’s never been to the Outer Banks, NC. My family has been going there for at least a decade, nearly every summer. So for us, there really wasn’t anything new. But for him? It was all new.

And this time there was something new for me, too.

Boyfriend wasn’t really interested in most of the usual tourist-y things: climbing lighthouses, visiting the Wright Memorial (he would have wanted to go, but the museum is under construction until fall 2018, so we decided to postpone that one), going to the Roanoke Island Festival Park, etc. Instead, the one thing he wanted to do is something none of us had ever done before. He wanted to go kayaking at night.

Now, we had done some kayaking tours in past years, mostly around the Alligator River (I’ve never seen any alligators, but some of my family has). Those tours were pretty awesome, but we always went early in the day to avoid the summer heat. But to go at night… that was something all of us were afraid to do. So afraid, in fact, that only I would go with boyfriend this time around.

So we signed up for the Maritime Forest Bioluminescence Tour. I dreaded the coming of the night, afraid to be lost in the dark, by myself, in a salt marsh. Who knew what lurked just beyond my sight? How much would I really be able to see? How would I find my way back?

Turned out that a huge storm system rolled in and we were forced to reschedule right as I was starting to get excited about the tour.

So we went the next night to the Bodie Island Bioluminescence Tour. The night was warm and clear, the moon was nowhere to be seen, and even if it was, there wouldn’t be much light as it was in the waning phases. We also found out this was the better of the two tours being offered. It was a perfect night for such a tour.

All we really expected to see were fireflies, but it was so much better than that.

We left the shore into the super calm waters across from the Bodie Island Lighthouse. It was so quiet, and it got even more quiet (and dark) the further we got from the highway. We saw the International Space Station fly by overhead. The stars became clearer and more abundant. We could even see the cloudy light of the Milky Way overhead.

And then something happened that I had never expected to see in my life: bioluminescent plankton began to glow and sparkle with every stroke of the paddles. Every drop to fall from the paddle, every stroke, every hand drawn through the warm water stirred up these plankton.

It was magical.

The guides instructed us to put our hands six inches down and snap our fingers if we couldn’t quite tell, if they just looked like bubbles, but it just became more and more apparent the farther we paddled from shore (and the light pollution). I put my hand in the water, which terrified and exhilarated me at the same time. Around my hand, the plankton were almost a white cloud of light, and the bright blue of their glow grew brighter as they drifted away from me. It truly did look like magic.

All around, fish began jumping in the water. You see, small fish are attracted to the bioluminescence of the plankton, and they pursue it for their dinner. The glow then also attracts larger fish, the ones who were jumping, to go after these small predator fish. So the glow attracts the predators of the plankton’s predators, thereby protecting them. Weird, right? But so cool (I know, I know. But hey, I’m a biologist!). Other than the fact that one of these larger fish jumped out of the water and right into my shoulder! I smelled like fish the rest of the night, and it scared me more than anything else. And now I have a funny story to share!

But, besides sharing this magical experience with you, there is a point to my story.

If we never do something because we are afraid, we miss out on something that could be truly magical. Perhaps this applies to your creative processes, such as writing or drawing. Perhaps it is in sharing what you create. Perhaps it applies to an activity that scares you, like this nighttime excursion scared me.

Sometimes we need to do things that scare us, because those can end up being some of our best experiences. And if we can’t do them alone, we find those people who push us and encourage us.

So this is my learned lesson shared with you: do the things that scare you. And if you are having trouble on your own, find those people to push you past your comfort zone. Let the magic happen.

As for me, I’ll be forever grateful to boyfriend for making me go on this tour. I have beautiful memories with him and of the experience, I have a painting to make of the experience, I have material for my writing, and I have pride in knowing I did something no one else in my family would do.

It was a good night, and I can’t wait to do it again.

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