Jellies of the Damariscotta

Sitting in the front of a canoe, I dipped my paddle into the salty waters of the Damariscotta River, a 19-mile long tidal river that feeds into the Gulf of Maine. Morning sunlight shimmered on the surface. A faint breeze rippled the water. All was calm on my morning paddling trip at the end of June. Marianne—a longtime Mainer and family friend—steered us away from the dock, doing her best to keep us in a straight line as we headed to an island to scope out an eagle’s nest.

As I worked on my J-stroke on the starboard side of the canoe, it seemed like I was stirring a big simmering pot of jellyfish stew. Moon jellies were so thick that with every dip of the paddle I smacked dozens of them. Their translucent bodies mesmerized me. Especially their inability to escape as I repeatedly assaulted them. Their umbrella shape pulsed, uncovering four bright gonads symmetrically placed in the center and lit up like Christmas lights. Tentacles flailed around them like outstretched greedy hands. I had grown to dislike jellies—having been stung one too many times as a kid by species like sea nettles that would leave welts on my limbs—so I experienced some guilty pleasure from whacking them with my wooden paddle.

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