On the island of Puerto Rico, there are two staple beverages- coffee and beer. The latter being much of the reason I can’t really remember the entire day in question. However, I can recall reasoning with others that despite the lack of rain, that particular night would be our best shot at finding bioluminescent fungi because the moon was almost new.[Translation- The forest would be dark enough to see glow-in-the-dark stuff.]
Diamonique in El Yunque Nat. Forest, Puerto Rico
So we stumbled off. Thinking back on it, I’m extremely impressed at my coordination that night as I’m pretty sure I forgot to bring my flashlight. Once reaching what we thought was a good spot, everyone turned off their lights to allow out our eyes to adjust to the darkness. I took a few steps away from the group, but remained close enough that I could hear instructions on what to look for and my dear friend, the Debbie doubter, calling the entire expedition futile.
In her defense, I don’t think I anticipated finding anything either, but I was happy just to be on the adventure. I could hear the others rustling the leaves on ground, carefully crawling along and keeping their eyes peeled. I remained upright and listened to the midnight chorus a while before eventually dropping my head, sweeping my eyes across my invisible feet, and stooping down to turn over a leaf. And there it was- a soft green glow right on the forest floor! Slowly scanning to the left and right, more things began to leap out with light. Upon standing, I shrieked with delight as all of the forest floor seemed to twinkle. I even found a glowing stick that I waved around like a wizard. I tucked the leaf in my pocket and held the stick tightly as we silently hiked back to our field station. Emerging from the tree line, I stopped to look up at the star-studded sky and smiled remembering the Lord’s Prayer, “...on earth, as it is in heaven.”
Diamonique in El Yunque National Forest Puerto Rico
I went to bed that night, like a child, filled with wonder that the entire universe had been beneath my feet. But before doing so, I stashed the leaf and stick in a plastic bag under my bed. The next morning, I retrieved the bag and carefully examined what I’d collected. It was unbelievable. The stick and leaf looked completely ordinary; brown, and, honestly, dead. I wasn’t sure what to think, but felt certain that what I’d seen the night before was real.
Puerto Rico, like many other places of the African Diaspora, contains extraordinary amounts of biodiversity. The balance, of which, is so important to maintain. John Muir, father of the National Parks once said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” I would add to that, “seen or unseen.” My experience on the island, spending most of it tucked away in El Yunque National (Rain)Forest, taught me a lot. One thing, of many, was faith. Faith that my body could carry me over 700 meters up a mountain, faith I could orienteer in a forest (and life) with skill, faith in my competence as a scientist, and faith in my conviction as an environmental leader. But as a witness to a glowing galaxy on the floor of the forest, I learned to have faith in the unseen processes maintaining the balance of life during daylight.
Diamonique Clark is a Baltimore native, holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Environmental Science, and is an advocate for environmental conservation and diversity in the outdoors.