Julia Baird on Phosphorescence as a Metaphor for Inner Light

“I imagine it is hard for people to visit your library now,” says Catherine Keenan, founder of Story Factory, Australia, in a letter, written during the lockdown in spring, “but I look forward to a time when they will come back, and will need good books more than ever.” Due to restrictions, it took four months for her donated book to reach the Sea Library. But in a way it arrived right on time.

“Phosphorescence” by Julia Baird was published in March. It couldn’t be a better timing for the book to travel the seas now. Book’s subtitle is “On Awe, Wonder & Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark”.

“Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder & Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark” by Julia Baird. Photo by Beach Books.

“There are few things as startling as encountering an unearthly glow in the wild,” writes Julia Baird. “Glow-worms. Ghost mushrooms. Fireflies. Flashing fish. Lantern sharks. Vampire squid. Our forest floors and ceilings, our ocean depths and fringes are full of luminous beings, creatures lit from the inside. And they have, for many centuries, enchanted us, like glowing missionaries of wonder, emissaries of awe.”

Author chooses phosphorescence as a perfect metaphor for “flashes of life in the middle of the dark, or joy in difficult times.” Julia Baird, Australian author, political journalist and TV presenter, has survived three difficult surgeries to remove cancerous tumours. Now she lives near the sea with her family.

“What has fascinated and sustained me over these last few years has been the notion that we have the ability to find, nurture and carry our own inner, living light – a light to ward off the darkness. This is not about burning brightly, but yielding simple phosphorescence – being luminous at temperatures below incandescence, quietly glowing without combusting. Staying alive, remaining upright, even when lashed in doubt.”

Julia Baird “Phosphorescence” 2019

Julia Baird becomes obsessed with phosphorescence, not only as a metaphor. “Today sightings of living light remain rare, magical and often unpredictable. Consequently, some people devote years to hunting it, seeing it and recording it. In recent years, I became one of them.”

“Phosphorescence” is packed with cool facts about nature’s ability to glow, but for the most part this book is about “the light within” as poet Emily Dickinson put it. Julia Baird writes about awe and wonder as shortcuts to our inner glow. She explores our need to get over ourselves and see nature and world around us with wide open eyes. Author highlights the importance of having a purpose in life and being infectiously curious.

“Phosphorescence” is also a book about family, pets and friends and about not worrying too much. Two chapters are letters: one for her daughter, one for her son. There’s also plenty of swimming in the book and – her special relationship with cuttlefish, “symbols of awe” for her.

One of the most beautiful passages in “Phosphorescence” is where Julia swims in the dark in a bioluminescence sea. It was one of her dreams to be there when it happens, to experience it, and finally she did. “My fingers threw out fistfuls of sequins with every stroke. A galaxy of stars flew past my goggles. It was as though I was flying through space .. we were glowing, lit from beneath, a vivid blue.”

Thank you, Cath, for the gift to the Sea Library.

May I suggest you to borrow this book together with “Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone” by Juli Berwald or any other book that makes you glow.


  1. What an enchanting post, and also a reminder of our innate powers that we forget to draw on amidst the business of our lives. It’s sad to know that these phosphorescent creatures of nature have become such a rare find. I remember 40 plus years ago when glo-worms were a common and precious sight in the threads of long grasses in our gardens in South Africa

    Liked by 1 person

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