Lights in the Night

I’ve been watching the glow of squid boats in the Santa Barbara Channel lately, a veritable parade of lights, and there is something beautiful about it. (I didn’t take the picture above, and I think it’s Malibu, but you get the idea.) Sometimes the prosaic feels magical.

The brilliant lights lure the squid and concentrate them near the surface, and then the fishermen use either seine or brail nets to catch them.  Seine fishing is the more common practice, in which the seine vessel deploys a skiff to encircle the squid with the gear to haul them aboard. Brail fishermen use a scoop net to harvest them at the surface after they have spawned. In any case, if calamari is on the menu, bright light was certainly involved. (Are those fishers unfairly exploiting the gifts of the sea, or simply partaking of abundance, enhanced by ingenuity?)

From the shore, I see only the orbs of light mirrored onto the sea and halos beaming skyward. Sometimes I awaken with surprise in the middle of the night at how bright it is out there, and even the room is illuminated. I can’t decide whether it’s comforting or ominous, like faith unwavering, or an apprehensive waiting. And I realize it’s a form of light pollution, but it casts a spell on me.

Squid boats aside, nighttime here is always filled with wonder. Stars do spill out in a milky way, an owl abruptly flutters by, the creatures that belong here wander freely. Now and then I hear the reassuring rumble of a train going by, setting off a ruckus of coyotes, and in summer, there is a tapestry of frog song.

We set up an infrared camera once to see what animals were visiting the creek. We know there is a lion in the area, foxes and bears are seen occasionally and bobcats often, but our camera revealed only images of cattle, coyotes, pigs–and this elegant glimpse of a deer in the textured darkness, its eye a little pool of light.

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