Not long ago, a few friends and I visited another planet.
You may think me crazy to make such an assertion, but I solemnly vow the following is all true.
As you might expect, such a journey required a special craft. We also had to take care as to when and where we arrived, as atmospheric conditions at our touch down point could be quite challenging, and even dangerous if taken for granted. Enter at the wrong time, and you could find yourself being blown away, as easily as a paper bag gets blown down the street on a gusty day.
This was not a place where you can just merrily jaunt along in a T-shirt and shorts. The atmosphere is not breathable, and is cold enough that were you to spend a half hour or so unprotected you would find yourself hypothermic. We’re not suicidal, we all wore exposure suits and carried an air supply.
We opted to enter at a forested area, as not only is the forest of interest, such areas also tend to support other forms of life. Why go to all this trouble and risk to visit an area of desolation?
One does have to be a bit careful while moving around in the forest, as it reaches out and grabs you on occasion. This is not a time to panic; it’s not carnivorous, but you can get pretty tangled, especially on the projections of your survival gear. Sometimes you even need to cut yourself free with a knife.
There was a fair amount of life. Consider these species:
- A family of creatures somewhat analogous to terrestrial birds, inasmuch as they “flew” around in the atmosphere. Rather than having feathers, they had more of a light armour and protective spines. Some of them had impressive teeth as well.
- Large numbers of insect like creatures, with exoskeletons and numerous legs. Fortunately these guys were all small, I’d hate to meet up with a big one in a dark alley.
- Small, pyramid shaped creatures, with an opening at the pointy end that had a fan like hand reaching out to grab any small particles or creatures that may be passing by.
- A creature that looks like a pin cushion.
- Rocks covered with a mossy looking blanket. These tended to run in whites, greys, or yellows.
- Small strips that looked almost like fabric.
- Creatures that looked a bit like flowers, with a center disk and petal like arms.
- A hard to describe creature; essentially a blob with legs. I’m reminded of the “flying spaghetti monster“, a satirical creature invented by snarky atheists. This real version tends to be shy and hides out deep in cracks, sometimes squeezing themselves through small doorways to reach their lair.
- Various other creatures of different shapes, colors, and sizes. Too much for my weak descriptive powers to illustrate.
As our stay was limited to our air supply, we made multiple excursions. Each in a slightly different location, each with different things to see. Sometimes visibility wasn’t the greatest, that breeze that could bounce us along like tumbleweeds tended to pick up detritus as well. But still, it was enjoyable, it’s not every day you can experience such an exotic environment.
By now, either you’re completely convinced that I’ve gone off the deep end and it’s time to call in the white coated guys with the straight jackets, or figured out where this planet is and may have even visited it yourself. It’s not a hallucination or a dream or a sci-fi movie, but I admit, in a way I did go off the deep end. Still, I didn’t lie; it’s all true.
Perhaps I should translate the experience into more prosaic terms to fend off the white coats, I don’t know if I could afford the bills for a sanitarium.
The base for this operation was in Port Townsend, Washington. The special craft was a boat. The atmosphere was salt water, specifically a segment of the Strait of Juan de Fuca near the Point Wilson lighthouse.
The special survival gear was a SCUBA set up: a tank, regulator, BCD, weight belt, fins, mask, etc. Because the water’s a bit chilly in the Pacific Northwest, usually in the 46°-50°F range (about 8°-10°C), most of us wear dry suits, which we tend to use as primary Buoyancy Compensating Devices as well. We also have the BCD vests as back ups.
Those dangerous atmospheric conditions were currents caused by the changing of the tides – when it’s ripping you really don’t want to be down there, it could take you for quite a ride and it might be hard for the dive boat to find you after surfacing.
The “forest” was a kelp forest. We use the fronds that have grown all the way to the surface to gauge the currents – if they’re submerged the current is running too fast for safe diving. In thicker areas it is easy to get snagged, especially around the fin straps and between the tank and your back. The pin cushion beasts are sea urchins – they graze on the kelp.
The “birds” are fish. The “insects” are crabs of various varieties. The flowers: anemones. The “pyramids” were acorn barnacles; they’re filter feeders. The “moss” is sponge. The “fabric” was a strip of nudibranch eggs. Nudibranchs are a sort of sea slug, much more interesting than land slugs.
And, of course, the flying spaghetti monster is an octopus. These bizarre creatures are one of my favorite things to find underwater; I’m always on the lookout for potential lairs, poking my nose into nooks and crannies, hoping to see a tell tale row of suckers to highlight a dive.
You’ll note I didn’t avow the truth to be following until after I mentioned “another planet”. But I’ve always thought that visiting the undersea world was like visiting an alien planet; everything is just so different down there. It’s a matter of perspective. If you look closely enough, there’s another planet, indeed a whole new universe to be seen.
The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper. – Eden Phillpotts