A special winter gift
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, this time of year is special and deserves to be honored. This year in particular, the timing of the solstice with the full moon and a wild winter storm meant a few intensely dark days since we lost power for several days for most of the island. In spite of a neighbor’s loud generator, the darkness was an unexpected gift. I am far enough north here and surrounded by large trees and on the east-facing side of the island that it’s dark by 4 pm. So the moon has a stronger presence in my life than it has had in other places I have lived. Further south, winter nights just aren’t as long and dark. And in the city, the cycles of nature are never as clear and strong.
Here, we have no street lights or direct neighbors. And I love my current writing project so much that I cannot make myself stop working by the time the sun goes down.So I oftentimes walk my dog in total darkness or under the moon, whether it’s cloudy or clear. I have learned to orient myself by the sound of the wind in the trees, by very faint shadows, by my dog’s pull, by smelling mushrooms or the neighbor’s distant fire, and by touch and dumb luck, if nothing else. I also happen to live on a small island where it is safe enough for a woman to be out alone in total darkness, which I will never take for granted again and feel immense gratitude for.
But still, having the moon out is a monthly gift that gives me freedom to walk at night without twisting an ankle on slippery drift wood. And it turns out that the beach 15 minutes from my house is facing the perfect moonrise watching direction, which is not something most normal people would care about but which has given me immense pleasure. Who cares about sunsets when you can have moonrises?
In the winter, tides are often too high to walk far along the narrow beach, plus we have crazy driftwood logs piled up, which make it difficult and dangerous to walk there. So what is a triple monkey like myself to do after a long day of writing or a trip to the city? Of course, the obvious is, drop your clothes and jump in for a swim. Which is what I usually do. And there is nothing more wonderful than swimming in a very cold still sea under a full moon. Except … swimming in a very cold still sea under a full moon with bioluminescence. Clouds of stars exploding from the tips of your fingers, arms, legs, shoulders, breasts, toes, and nose as you move gently in the water. Or as Wikipedia explains so elegantly “dinoflagellates [that] cause phosphorescence in the surface layers of water.” I do miss the full moon cross-country ski trips in the mountains of northern New Mexico and the silence of snow falling and melting on my mustang’s steaming butt. But stars are everywhere, even on cloudy nights in the Pacific Northwest. So bioluminescence is what happened to me yet again two nights ago, which happened to be Christmas Day. What an unexpected gift from the universe!
I have heard theories that bioluminescence happens during new moons only, since you need total darkness to see the glimmering of the phytoplankton. And that you need warm water, so it should be more common at least in the Pacific Northwest during summer months. Well, none of that is true. I have experienced it repeatedly during very cold full moon swims in the winter. I have also experienced it in totally dark summer nights. I also thought maybe the magic only reveals itself when I am alone but that’s not true either because I once had company. The only constant has been that it’s a calm sea and that I am in my birthday suit. Now I think I receive this gift at random moments from the universe whenever I need a reminder of magic.