tidepool immersion ~ brooding and homing


At the conclusion of my 30 days of gratitude, a friend commented, “we see what we look for.” I have to agree that this is true with gratitude. It also seems to be startlingly true in tidepooling. But sometimes I don’t know what I’m looking for when I begin my walk.

In December, tidepooling becomes an extreme sport because the timing of the low low tides overlaps with the early evening darkness. Oh, and winter weather. Tidepooling in the dark and rain is not an adventure for everyone, but as much as I despise cold and darkness, this adventure had my name on it.

The air was chill as we cut across the exposed intertidal shelf, stepping carefully around deep limestone pools in our extratuff boots. Mist beaded up on my purple raincoat, scattering the beam of my headlamp in all directions, so I knelt beside a tidepool. Kelp and fish permeated the air as I leaned closer, focused my camera lens, trying not to block the light my headlamp provided, laughing at the futility of photography in the rainy darkness, but unable to resist giving it a try.

Here’s what I didn’t know I was looking for…

brooding sea anemone

Brooding sea anemones (Epiactis prolifera)

All of them start off life as females. I was looking for females. I was looking for something that holds embryos in her mouth like so many words bubbling up, tumbling down column to pedal disk, to lodge in a fold of flesh and incubate and grow and become. I was looking for someone who encircles herself with her offspring, who knows about the departures as they start to crawl out into the world and live independent lives of their own.

Nudibranchs (Leopard Dorid – aka discodoris! and Monterey Dorid)

Reportedly, nudibranchs are a predator of anemones, and can incorporate the anemones’ stinging nematocyst cells into their own being for defense. I was looking for someone who could quarantine the weapons of others inside, not to continue to be hurt by them, but to repurpose as raw material for something that serves them better in the future.

Fluffy Sculpin Oligocottus snyderi

They swick their emerald fins in rocky pools from Baja to Alaska. They leave when conditions become inhospitable. When we say, “a fish out of water,” we mean someone out of their element, someone who has been befuddled, disabled by displacement. When displaced, when fluffy is a “fish out of water,” fluffy can still breathe. I was looking for that. I was looking for someone who would up and leave inhospitable conditions, and continue to breathe, unbefuddled.

On the other hand, fluffy sculpins exhibit homing behavior. When displaced, a fluffy sculpin can find its way back to its home tidepool. I was looking for homing, too.

Snailfish Liparis florae

A swish of yellow, a tiny apostrophe easily overlooked, soft-bodied and scaleless, a sucking disc for holding onto the rough rocks. I was looking for someone who could be among the roughness but remain soft, someone good at holding on.

Florae, named for Flora Hartley Greene, advocate for children and suffragette about whom I can read almost nothing. Obscure, dusty, writings leech the color and flavor out of both fish and woman, unobtainable references, her name misspelled, her story traceable only through that of her husband, the fish nerd of the family. I was looking for a tiny fish to remind me of forgotten women who fought for my rights: to vote and be my own woman, not subordinate to a man, no matter how wonderful my husband may be.

chiton under black light

Many tiny six-rayed sea stars twinkled white light as they clung to festive eelgrass tinsel flung about in energetic celebration. Baby stars, such a sign of hope after decade-long star famine. Rich surprised us all by pulling a black light flashlight out of his pocket. It belonged to his father. Bob used it to illuminate rocks and minerals, but we shined it into dim tidepools to find out that the night-emerging shrimp trim their fanning tails and waving antennae in glow-paint. We shined it and pastel anemones lit up the pools, brighter than ever they express themselves in daylight. We shined it to find out that hermit crabs are the most colorful party-goers attending the celebration, the algae covering their shells bright red, their claws neon green, Christmas crabs crawling across inky fields of blue and purple. I didn’t know I was looking for psychedelic hermit crabs.

hermit crab

2 comments to tidepool immersion ~ brooding and homing

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>