I kept one eye on the sea, as it sinuously stroked the rocky shores, kelp slowly fanning with each pulsating lap. Tentatively, reluctantly, the water’s liquid reach slipped further and further down the pier posts as it was dragged away from us and toward the moon’s swaggering presence.
Barnacles closed up, their grasping, feathered fingers still inside darkened cocoons. Clams wept, tears trickling seaward as mussels closed up shop. The sun widened its path and the sea slunk lower in the bay, until I could see narrow arms of land heave up for breath between what had been a string of three islands. And so we took to the tide pools.
Clambering over dripping kelp, whose thin, tenuous skin was stretched and draped across the rocks beneath, creating a canopy for the intertidal creatures, gunnel fish, hermit crabs, sea urchins, snails and more that waited around and under the rocks, patiently counting the minutes until the water freed them again.
The kids had the most primal of human desires, to climb to the top of the furthest rock,
usually pinned on all sides by the sea, claiming that they were the first ones there…today (but the seagulls gliding by belied that tale),
before we descended between the dripping giants, sentries to an alien world in which we were intruders.
The first encounter was the anemones. The kids tickled their mouths, causing them to shrink back, grasping thick fingers with their stinging tentacles, useless and merely sticky to our touch.
We paused, counting white rings on the inch long green tentacles and pale, cream rings on the brown, more camouflaged anemones.
And then, “A Christmas anemone!” My daughter shouted. We all poured over the last few boulders to witness the festive greens and reds. Its mouth was out and we could see the glistening, swirled perfection of this creature, surviving in the noon sun.
We didn’t know which parts were what, but we could see the differences in color, size and texture and were quiet in the observation of this otherworldly life form.
From there they fanned out. Sea stars were counted
until the numbers ran too high and then sizes were shouted out (especially the babies).
My son found a clam (“Mister Clam, Mom! Show some respect.”), who happily (doubtful) swelled up with sea water before squirting him over and over when tapped.
In intergalactic exploratory style, we wove between the pools, dipping our fingers into one world and then another minutes later to identify types of sea stars and discover ‘new’ species.
In the unidentifiable, the method of life was debated.
There were shy sea fans stretched out of their unassuming tubes that we would gather around to see how close whoever’s turn it was could get before the lightening retreat.
And then someone noticed the dinosaurs of the fossil record hiding in plain sight and they materialized everywhere, that aged chiton.
A nosy sea cucumber inched its way out slowly; we could barely see it move…until it was touched, and then it recoiled so quickly it pulled our surprised laughs with it.
Suddenly, my patient, dawdling, ever-curious daughter called, her yell muffled by her bent head. We came slowly, because she is amazed by everything, but wish we had rushed as we watched in awe the most beautiful creature we had yet seen, creep slowly along the bottom of a sunny pool. She quickly found another in a neighboring tide pool and named one Nudi, and the other Branch (brank). No one even thought of touching either. We were honored just to see them.
The sun was intoxicating,
The colors were vibrant,
There was discovery after discovery,
And we got so swept up in the pull of the find,
that I suddenly realized I’d forgotten to keep one eye on the sea.
We began to run back, feet tromping over the mind bogglingly old chert—which our guide from the Peterson Bay Field station a day later, would explain was the fossilized remains of millions of ancient sea creatures fallen to the bottom of a timeworn seabed.
The arrival of the sea, flowing upward, forced our own ebb, landward.
And the wonder of it all? That we can visit the alaskan intertidal zone, ecosystem of extremities. That even in our fascination and awe of the ‘other’, we see a place for ourselves, if only in reflection, that glistening seawater miracle of it all.