Dripping Diamonds

Dripping Diamonds

This post is contributed by Barnaby Porter from his archives. Read the previous post here.

Some things are better left unexplained – magic, mystery and wonder for example. A magic trick isn’t much of a trick if the magician shows how he did it, and there is nothing very mysterious about anything that has a clear explanation. But then there is wonder. Wonder is different; it is not brought on by simple sleight-of-hand nor by missing facts. Wonder is an exalted state of emotion, fed in part by both magic and mystery but more importantly by the sheer power of reality itself. To explain wonder away with cumbersome truths and reasons why would have the same end result as with magic and mystery. Wonder would be lost.

Many things give birth to our sense of wonder – the world itself, the miracles within it, the universe beyond. They are the inspirations for poets, explorers, men of the earth and lovers. Such as they are, from every calling, the clouds they gaze upon are their elixir. The mountains, the heaving seas, the raging storm, the Moon – none of these needs necessarily to be explained. Just that they are there offers wonders galore!

A sometimes “curse” of being human, though, is that we aren’t inclined to content ourselves with wonderment and can’t just take a vacation from always seeking answers to the inexplicable. The dry and humorless scientist cannot be satisfied to simply peer in awe at the drop of pond water under his microscope. For him, that drop is filled with organisms with unpronounceable names scrambling to gobble each other up. Those he doesn’t recognize he will find in a dichotomous key somewhere. His charts on the wall depict the food chain from algae to grazers to carnivores, showing their reproductive cycles, pH tolerances, and what’s good or bad about them.

Such is the hidden “curse” besetting wide-eyed wonderment – the pure, emotional reaction to the marvel of the unexplained. At the root is our crying need to know, to understand the miraculous. But until we ask and answer too many questions, the void in our understanding is fertile ground for wonderment.

I maintain there are moments when it is better to quell the need to search for hard facts, when to wonder alone is a far more elevating experience than to strip the phenomenon down to its bare mechanics. Once done, there is nothing left but unpronounceable words.

One starry, ink blue night, I took my boat out on the river. I soon noticed the stars had fallen into the water. My bow wave sparkled with them. Some landed on deck. I felt them with my fingers. They were cool and wet. I looked behind me. My boat’s wake glowed like the Milky Way, blue-green and endless; the water was alive with trillions of tiny lights.

I don’t remember where I went or why. It might have been just a dream. But eventually I returned to my mooring, and when I lifted the line from the water, it twinkled like a rope of icy jewels that melted as I fastened it to the bow cleat. And I climbed into my dinghy to row ashore through eddies of swirling stars. With each stroke of the oars, they dripped sparkling diamonds.

There is a word for it: bioluminescence – but I prefer, simply, wonderful.

illustration from Wynken, Blynken and Nod by Barbara Cooney

Illustration from Wynken, Blynken and Nod, by Barbara Cooney

Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. On October 7, 2021, Barnaby completed his tenure on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees after six years of service.