Low tide. Sunshine. The unmistakable scents of the intertidal zone – salty and seaweedy – on a cool breeze. Bubbles, drips, and squirts from the creatures in the tidal pools and hidden under rocks as they wait for the ocean water to return. Eagles often swoop low, searching for treats left by the retreating tide. We spent many afternoons on this beach, the roar of the air force’s planes taking off and landing overhead, as we scampered over slippery seaweed-covered rocks.
Turn over a barnacle-crusty rock and there’s a scramble of clicking claws as crabs scurry for cover. Mussels cluster together, and periwinkles meander across the bottom. At very low tides there is sometimes a sea cucumber, or some frilly goopy creature I’ve yet to find a name for. Worms squirm and wriggle.
Watch the bottom of a clear tidal pool for a moment and you’ll see that what you thought was inanimate shell-litter is alive and crawling. Crabs creep sideways, hermit crabs haul their periwinkle homes, other periwinkles with their original inhabitants creep. Camouflaged fish flitter, barely visible in the seaweed shadows. Purple and orange starfish cling to the undercurve sides of boulders with the occasional large crab lurking with claws ready to defend itself. Sea anemones wave their pink or green tentacles – or wait out the tide tucked inside themselves.
As kids my sister and I explored these wonders – holding crabs in our hands, prying off starfish, and collecting orange periwinkles by the dozens to take home. Oddly, in later years the orange ones disappeared. Was it us? Did we exert enough selective pressure to shift a balance? Or were there other forces at work? Who knows. But for a good twenty years, any time we were at that beach we looked, and there were no orange periwinkles.
Yesterday we revisited that same beach with Cameron. My aunt, Mom, Cameron and I scrambled over rocks and turned them over to discover what was underneath. We’d done this before with him, but this time he seemed more interested. We perched by tidal pools and talked about what was living in there. We found tunicates and crabs, looked at the undersides of starfish, checked out the contents of periwinkle shells – who lives in there? We gently touched sea anemone tentacles to feel their stickiness.
And we found orange periwinkles. We left them there. Maybe next year there will be more.