A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Those Special Sarasota Firsts: Flashes of Green, Streaks of Blue

Long time residents can forget. Forget what it is like to experience some of Sarasota specialness for the first time. I no longer remember my first frog-choking, house-rattling thunderstorm, but that first "how-much-worse-can-it-get" event is a humbling experience that leaves people shaken and stirred. Then there is the first twelve foot alligator at Myakka, the first sandhill crane family by the side of the road, the first tropical storm with 'feeder bands" scudding over, or the the first manatee snout breaking the surface.

I'm plant-oriented, so I try to imagine people's sense of wonder in their first Spring when the gold trees bloom, or their first rain lilies, or first night-blooming cereus, or first Royal Poinciana. After awhile one realizes that the way to reconnect with those "first feelings" is to be with people who are experiencing Sarasota for the first time. So you take people out to Myakka Park to see their first twelve footer. Or to Selby Gardens, or Mote. And then you can vicariously re-experience the first time wonder of where we live. 

Last night I turned the campaign down to simmer and ventured out with the Lemon Bay Kayakers to Midnight Beach. I left my campaign name badge home and introduced myself as Jono or Jono Miller, not my new name: Jono Miller, running-for-the-Sarasota-County-Commission-and-I'll-need-your-vote-on-November-fourth.

The paddle from Turtle Beach to Midnight Beach has to be one of the shortest around. And one of the most rewarding. Everyone was in kayaks except for Ed Freeman and myself. I have tight hamstrings so sitting with my legs out in front is not comfortable for me. Besides. I've been paddling the same olive-drab Grumman for 43 years and that brings its own comforts.

The Lemon Bay Kayakers try to make the trip each full moon. Full moon trips are popular with paddlers because as soon as the sun sets in the West, the full moon rises in the East. So if it is not cloudy there is some form of celestial light provided for the whole trip. They make the short paddle, explore around some and then head up on the beach to have very simple, somewhat unpredictable potluck picnic while they wait for the sun to set. 

This paddling group loves their sunsets. Many are relative newcomers and they relish and treasure being able to witness each evening's free light show. While some swam, the rest of us circled the food, chatting and keeping on eye on the sun as it approached the horizon. Some joked about the sun plunging into the sea and all the steamed produced. Another reviewed the various sites such as Mallory Square where the final dip garners applause, while others speculated about seeing the flash of green. 

"Riiiight," I thought to myself. "Like that's gonna happen tonight." I've seen it snow in Sarasota. I experienced the recent earthquake. I've seen the crepuscular rays at sunset meet in the East. But after 38 years in Sarasota never having seen the green flash, I had put it in a category with seeing my first panther -- a theoretical possibility but so unlikely that it could not even be wished for.  And it is certainly unlikely to appear for people who have only been here a few years. Isn't the green flash like playing the blues? Don't you have to pay your dues, put in your time to experience such things?

But there it was. When the last arc of the sun slipped below the horizon a green flame was illuminated so briefly that those of us who saw it doubted ourselves, and those who didn't see it REALLY doubted us. Ed was certainly skeptical.

It wasn't grass green, but flame green, the green you see sometime in fireplaces, a color associated with boron.  It wasn't a big flash, but a short green licking flame. It didn't last but a second, but it was not any normal sunset color I'd seen. It was the flash of green. And it looked like the picture I found on the internet (which was taken in Sarasota! -- That was affirming.)

The group stood around savoring the post-sunset sky while some swam and others tried the kahlua brownies. We waited for the moon, but it didn't show (clouds in the East), so we shoved off in the dark. Most of the kayakers had white stern lights. My old canoe sported the only red/green running light, smushed on the bow deck with a suction cup.

Ed and I shoved off quickly, wary of sand flies or mosquitos and soon noticed the bioluminescence in the water. We're both old hands with this liquid living light and Ed had actually been to Bioluminescent Bay in Puerto Rico. 

But hearing the shrieks of joy as the other paddlers set out and discovered not only that their paddles dripped cool blue light, but that fleeing fish generated darting contrails of blue flame allowed us to reconnect with the unexpected joy of this phenomenon. "Its like fireworks!" one woman exclaimed. She was right of course, but these were the cool silent fireworks, not echos of warfare, gunpowder and missiles, but explosions of life.

The bioluminescence in the bays and Gulf is nearly a well kept secret, probably because it is one of those "you had to be there" phenomena that don't photograph well and hence seldom make it into newspapers and magazines. It has been photographed successfully in that bay in Puerto Rico and Escher made an engraving of of the effect that was subsequently captured in photographs from Carlsbad (Laura Klabunde) California and one from Baja that I found on the web. But in general, it is hard to take a picture of this event, a fact that contributes to its unexpected specialness.

We paddled east across the Intracoastal on dark flat water devoid of powerboats. I think we saw one. The moon appeared. The imposing, over-lit edifices of The Oaks in summer seemed lifeless compared with the teaming water we had traversed.

We paddled through a narrow mangrove tunnel at Webb's Cove at Spanish Point, and then people wanted to head back the way we came. They wanted to see the light again, to see the mullet gather speed, blue blurs that surfaced, flew free silhouetted in the moonlight and then rejoined the water with an illuminating splash. 

When we got back to Turtle Beach, it was dark, with none of the security lights, which for some reason usually make me feel less secure. Lights are off for sea turtle nesting. We loaded quickly in the dark and I handed out four or five campaign brochures. I left the parking lot with just my parking lights on and headed to the 7-11 up the road to re-hydrate.

Was it an important campaign event? Probably not in terms of number of voters contacted or dollars raised. But it reconnected me with more of what makes Sarasota special -- a big part of why I am running. 

And, for the first time, I saw the green flash. 

It was worth it. And anyone can discover what is special about Sarasota, at any time.