Monday, August 2, 2010


Jellyfish wash up on the beach every day of the month of July.  Their gelatinous bodies cover the rocks in the tidal zone in purple dressings, which dry to yellow-brown filmy crusts.  No one seems to know why, this year, there are so many, nor really, where they come from. By the time we see them, they are usually dying, drifting slowly into ground.

Many people hate them, but I find them lovely so long as I don't have to swim among them.  They drift on the currents, trailing their stinging tentacles, then suddenly--in contact with what?--contract, turn nearly inside out, change direction, push off and drift away.

Jellyfish.  It is, if descriptive, not a very beautiful name for this fantastical free-swimming current-drifting plankton-eating creature, this stinging invertebrate made mostly of water and a few layers of tissue--though worse still is the German die Qualle: gob, phlegm.  Other languages call "jellies" by "mythological names", as the French dictionary I consult describes the origin of the French word for this creature: meduse, from the Greek, medousa, a feminine form of the word medon, meaning, "one who rules over or guards," more specifically in this case, Medusa, the name of that mortal Gorgon with snakes for hair whose gaze was so awful she turned men (I choose my word carefully here) to stone.  Clearly, some cultures and languages are more adept at storytelling than others--Medusae (scientific name) are known as medusa in Italian, as medusa or sea-nettle in the UK, and, in Farsi, as aroos-e-daryai or "bride(s) of the sea".

I like to think of these names as I wade in the frigid waters off of Psyche Beach, photographing segments of a bloom of purple Medusozoa.  

My feet freeze and I stand still: stunned, fascinated.  No larger than my palm, these medusae--yet fear and the camera eye make them seem monstrous, huge, terrifying. They are wonderful; and unlike Medusa, at once, metaphorically potent and really constraining.  I hop aside to avoid a trailing tentacle

--which seems, all thing considered, a kind of justice.  I may frame them here, but they are not entirely in my power.  

Thanks to Lara Braitstein for the Farsi name for these creatures, and to Marie-Therese Blanc for reminding me that a large cluster of jellyfish is called a bloom.

1 comment:

  1. How lovely these jellyfish , meduses in my language , become in your writing . From scary and dangerous they transform themselves in mysterious floating-flying in the sea creatures .