Comb jellies, lightning bugs of the sea

It was just past dusk, a warm September evening welcoming us to the beach. And there it was.

An impossibly blue flash of light at the edge of the bay, just inside the curl of a gentle bay wave.

Then another. And then yet another. Brief flashes of blue from the bay, another surprise from our beach. We had never seen them before.

Comb jelly, taken at Monterey Aquarium by Bastique, CC

Comb jellies are not the same as jellyfish, despite their similar names (and similarly gelatinous bodies). They do not sting.

Sometimes in late summer they can overwhelm the bay–you feel them slip through your fingers with each stroke as you swim, at first a bit unnerving, but can be soothing once you get used to them.

Hundreds sometimes wash up on our beach, little glass globules sitting on the wet sand. I sometimes put a few back. We can all use a hand now and again.

If you watch one and the sun catches it just right, you will see a beautiful rippling iridescent wave along its edges, a living kaleidoscope. You can do this easily at high tide when you’re chest deep in water. It’s worth the effort.

And a few, it turns out, will erupt into light when disturbed. Our bay continues to surprise us.

Jetty jumping

Jetty at Scott Avenue beach, early July evening

I grew up jumping on rock jetties along the Atlantic. We’d run along the top of these jagged walls, leaping off one rock, planning our landing as we launched. We were younger, made fewer mistakes, and healed faster when we did.

The jetties call, especially at sunset. The outcrop of rocks sitting at the end of a short walk along the wooden wall calling like a Siren, alluring and dangerous.

If the rock is green, it’s slippery. If it’s green and wet, it’s dangerously slick. God gave us four limbs–use all of them.

Barnacles are sharp–oyster shells hones by the tides are razor sharp. I once managed to slice my big toe to near the bone by the ferry jetty, hobbled back to my bicycle, then dripped a bloody trail all the way back home. Cleaning the sand out was, well, unpleasant, but had to be done. I have a deep scar to remind me.

Be aware of the tide–the bay swings up to 6 feet in 6 hours, and a few of the groins along the North Cape May beach are underwater. You can wait or get wet.

Worth the small risk

Each jetty along the beach has its own characteristic wooden walkway and rock formation. Over the years you get to know them. If you’re just down here for vacation, though, you might want to stick to the ferry jetty–it’s level and (usually) dry, though you do need to watch when larger boats push water in the canal.