Tag Archives: tide pools

Recovery

[I wrote this several days ago, before I flew to Wisconsin. I’ve become an even worse blogger than diarist: I don’t always upload what I put in my journal. This post is for my incredible students in Nature Writing. Somehow, despite Zoom, we created a community that was welcoming, supportive, and entertaining. I thank our Waldens for giving us sanctuary and freedom.]

We’ve arrived late and mishap has preceded us. A helicopter hovers over Point Fermin, sequel to the sirens we heard earlier. Another body rescue, or recovery, I presume. Did they fall, jump, or were they pushed? A month or so ago, a young man and woman — the ages of my students — were found at the bottom of the cliffs. It wasn’t known if it was a double suicide, a murder suicide, or a selfie gone horribly wrong. These bluffs are treacherous. The crumbling sandstone shifts constantly. Most city folks don’t understand this natural terrain. It’s illegal to climb the cliffs, but ever since the internet discovered Sunken City, urban explorers and teenage taggers come here in droves. Followed by sirens and helicopters.

It’s the last week of the semester. I’ve become a lousy, erratic diarist. My early enthusiasm for journaling was displaced by all the other urgent concerns of my multitasking identities.

Or I just failed to prioritize me again.

Coming here and writing about nature was my refuge when the year started. I felt like I found my center, my safe place, my sweet spot — after a year of so much horror. The tide pools were my muse. I had purpose again.

So, where did my love go?

It’s still here. I sit down and immediately the words pour out. Poor Alex whines at me to get a move on: “The tide is rising. It’s windy. It’s cold. It’s boring.” I bribe him with doggie treats and scribble furiously.

I am so grateful for this class, this project, this Walden. When we began, the pandemic was still raging. Our country was in chaos. It seemed like 2021 was just going to be 2020 prolonged.

But peace, and vaccines, and health, and spring came. I’ve gone beyond hope to happiness.

Maybe, I stopped needing to write. But I haven’t stopped wanting to. And I won’t stop writing, again.

The helicopter is gone. At the old Spanish wall a man is trying to fly a trash bag tied to a string. Four surfers wait in vain for their waves. Tonight a “pink” moon is supposed to rise with the sunset. Maybe, I’ll come back then.

Post Script: The moon is/was spectacular. We watched it from the living room. It’s not pink, or even orange: It is white, bright like the sun. It lit up the eastern sky and the ocean below. I can see it now, peeking out over the neighbor’s roof. It will probably slip around to the west window over our bed and wake us up in the wee hours, as it likes to do. I don’t mind.

A drum circle and fire jugglers greeted the moon down at the beach, just like in the old days. The unusual is becoming usual again.

And now, the third helicopter of the evening. According to the citizen journalists of Facebook, there was a suicide at the lighthouse. For some, the rising comes too late.

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The tide is low

Alex and I are at the tide pools. According to the Surfline app, it’s almost low tide. Our assignment today is to practice awareness – one of the essential values we gain from nature, according to Sigurd Olson, the 20th century naturalist of Minnesota’s boundary waters. We are focusing on the micro, not the macro – the trees, not the forest, or rather the tide pool, not the ocean. We are trying to see beyond abstract first impressions, the concrete details beneath the surface.

It’s a bit hard to concentrate. We may be in nature, but we are definitely not away from it all. It’s a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, a day of sunny calm amid a week of winter storms, and I haven’t been around this many people for a pandemic minute. Families are swarming the rocks; the only thing ensuring social distancing is the six-foot-wide tide pool Alex and I are hunkered next to. Alex is my dog: a wiry brown terrier we adopted from the Harbor shelter, full name Alexander Hamilton (my son, Cole Hamilton – really his name – named him). “Hammy” has grown up on these rocks and is deft at getting around on them, when he’s not lying in my lap and nibbling on a piece of kelp. Who knew dogs eat kelp?

“I found a limpet! I found a limpet!” The five-year-olds are better at this than I am. They scurry across the rocks exclaiming their treasures. Alex eyes them warily then looks up at me, brown eyes big with sympathy.

I chose to hone in on a tide pool today after the sea smashed my first plan: to observe it from a paddleboard. I couldn’t get my big fiberboard Naish past the surf break; every sixth wave crashed too far out, and I almost wound up somersaulting though the surf with my board and paddle. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, so already wet, I swam around for a half hour, semi searching the ocean floor for the favorite water bottle the wave snatched. A few hours later, I’m back, awaiting low tide.

What I see in my pool:

  • Pinkish purple lichen-like coral: a forest of tiny aquatic bonsai, rooted on a rock. (I look it up later: coral weed.)
  • Putrid-green seaweed; tastes like chicken, Alex says.
  • Vivid green sea grass, spread like mermaid hair.
  • Bigger – two-foot-long – trunks of dark green kelp; the sequoia of the tide pool. (Feather boa kelp.)
  • Dozens of snail shells on the opposite shore. (Periwinkle.) Most seem to be empty but a few move quickly: homes purloined by hermit crabs. Why are they called hermits when I always see them in clusters?
  • Yellow foam bubbles cling to the top of the vegetation. Natural or industrial pollution?
  • I see limpets!
  • Some of the rocks are psychedelic in their multitude of colors: yellow, pink, green, white, painted with lichen of varying shades and textures.
  • Peering deeper, I see a lavender shell – a whelk?

You have to look up sometimes too. Just 20 feet away, a bird is hunting the shore’s edge. It walks in long strides on stilt legs and dips its equally long beak into the water, pulling up a tiny shore crab, whose eight legs wave in the air. Gray with a white chest, it’s a willet, or a plover, or some kind of shore bird. It could be a Monty Python character, straight out of the department of silly walks. I look it up later; first guess was right, a willet.

I look down one last time and realize there is a fish right below me, probably there the whole time. It’s camouflaged black and green on the pond’s bottom, like a mud guppy. It’s small, maybe two inches, and darts into thin water when I bring my finger close. (A sculpin.)

Instead of getting lower, the tide is coming in, a steady stream back into my pool now, whose rocks and limpets will be underwater again in a few hours. Clouds cover the sun and it’s getting cold – winter is back. Alex is restless. He’s already gotten up once, searched for some fresher greenery, then shoved my pen aside with his nose and crawled back into my lap, as if to say, “Focus on this.” We call it a day. Back home I thumb through the pictures in my new guides and try to identify everything I wrote down in my journal. So much to see, so much to learn.

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Filed under Flotsam and Jetsam: The Life Aquatic, Wild Things