Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Guest Essay: Tidepool

The ocean exerts a strong pull on me, calling me with memories of waves lashing the shore or whispering over the rocks along its edge. My friend, writer, author and forager Hank Shaw, recently wrote a meditation about his own relationship with the abundance of life along its edges.

For as long as I have been me, I have collected the detritus of the sea.

Shells of tiny whelks and oyster drills. The calcified husks of sand dollars or sea urchins. Jingle shells. Sea glass, each with an unknowable story of how it entered the ocean to be tossed about, burnished and softened over time. Mostly white, green or brown, a fleck of cobalt sea glass I found on a beach on Block Island decades ago remains one of my prized possessions, for reasons my conscious mind cannot fathom.

But these were merely what I put into my pockets. The real draw of the place where ocean meets land is its living edge: the tidepool.

Sometimes it is merely a depression in the beach that became a shallow lake. A lake teeming with sand fleas, minnows of indeterminate species, seaweeds and the always entertaining hermit crab. In New England and along the North Pacific, sand gives way to stone. Boulders and crags litter the littoral landscape like forgotten dice tossed there by unseen giants.

These stones trap pools of water, and by so doing serve as bulwarks for an array of wonder.

Seaweeds of endless variety. Crustaceans ranging from barely visible to alarmingly large. Lots of fish, some tempting. I once found a rubberlips perch big enough to eat, if only I could have caught him. Snails — turbans in the West, winkles in the East — dot every hard surface; to me they’re like money scattered on pavement. Mussels jostle for position on the ocean faces of the boulders, grudgingly making way for the bizarre (and delicious) gooseneck barnacles, which remind me of the 1950s saddle shoes my mom once had in her closet.

I move through this kaleidoscope as I always have: As a child.

Some of my earliest memories are of tidepools. The boom and hiss of waves large enough to kill. The minerality of the air, a saline bite that mingled briny life and the reeking, iodine rot of decaying kelp or crabs. Or, once, a large hunk of whale.

An inexorable descent into a coating sandiness that I knew even as a child would take all day — or a proper, indoor shower — to fully remedy. The step-sink-slip, the tightening calves and exfoliating rasp of the sand that are the price, and the gift, of walking long distances on a beach. And there is always that clammy chill hovering over the pools, even in high summer.

The game is always different in the pools, but there is always action.

Read the rest of this marvelous essay.

Photos at left and right by Hank Shaw.

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