Switgard

Courtesy of SWITGARD DUESTERLOH

A black chiton, tide pool sculpin and three limpets on encrusted red algae share a Kodiak tide pool.

Imagine you were shut down in a small apartment in a high-riser in some city. You are not allowed to go outside, so to keep your sanity you begin to meditate.

Lay down on your back, close your eyes, relax and take slow, deep breaths. After a while you try to find a place of peace.

For me, that is usually a grove of old-growth trees with a carpet of green moss and beards of lichen hanging off the branches and sunlight filtering through the canopy.

Sometimes it is a scene on a beach. Usually it is a sandy beach that stretches out toward the water’s edge. There is sun on the horizon, its rays reflecting off the ocean surface in wavy patterns. The ocean is calm, though in constant motion with small waves and ripples.

On the beach, tiny waves wash ashore in the slow progression of coming and going. White foam dissipates into water at the exact moment when the direction of the flow reverses — each wave similar and yet unique in where the foam goes, how far it washes up and how it swirls the sand underneath on the backflow.

Once you are fully immersed in this place of peace, you may begin to explore.

You now realize that the sandy beach is bordered by parts of the beach with rocks and tide pools, and, as our imagination is capable of instant transport, you are now looking down on one of those tide pools.

At first you only see the sunlight reflecting off the surface of the small pool like a mirror, and you see a glimpse of your own reflection standing tall over the surface of the pool, looking down.

Then you see movement in the tide pool and crouch down for a better look. You see seaweeds swaying with the motion of the waves going in and out.

For a moment it occurs to you that this makes no sense, because the pool you just looked into was perfectly still, but in a meditation the laws of physics don’t apply and the seaweeds are swaying.

There are green, fine leafy seaweeds, small branched red ones around the edges of the pool and a couple of larger, brown ones that look like palm trees in a breeze in the deepest parts. The rocky sides of the pool are also partially overgrown by a pink crust, which is a calcareous red algae. 

As you bend down, your shadow moves across the pool and causes a flurry of tiny fish to dart around seeking cover.

One of them stops right next to your left foot, and when you look closer you notice a tide pool sculpin with a head making up one-third of its body size and large pectoral fins sticking out to either side. Perhaps this big-eyed mini fish also has a white bar across its midriff.

As you are patiently observing, you catch another kind of movement in the corner of your eye and soon notice what looks like a snail scuttling over. Something seems wrong about the notion of a scuttling snail. Also, snails don’t have legs. The little creature brings out two tiny claws and long antennae next to two bright green beady eyes. With its claws, the hermit crab begins to tear off small pieces of seaweed and make them disappear somewhere under the eyestalks where its face must be.

As your shadow shifts a little, a ray of sun shines on something white on the bottom of the pool, and you notice a pattern of eight small butterfly shells lined up one after the other, framed in black sitting on the pink crusty algae.

Not far from that there are three tiny hats. Well, they look like hats, but they are limpets, a kind of snail that has no twist in its shell.

I imagine by now, if you really are in an apartment in a big city, that an ambulance with noisy sirens is driving by, catapulting you out of your meditation and back into the real world.

As you remain lying down with your eyes now open, you may relish the dream-like experience and the relaxation that the ocean, its calming breaths and its little creatures provided. 

However, you are NOT in a big city. You don’t even have to dream about something so amazing as watching small miracles in a tide pool. You are NOT locked up in your tiny high-riser apartment. You can simply make a trip to the nearest beach at low tide and experience these small wonders and more.

Tide pooling is a great and relaxing activity for people of all ages, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

Follow a good tide pool etiquette, which means that you look and enjoy without causing harm to the fragile animals living along the shore.

Know what the tide is doing (coming in or going out) and keep an eye on your return path, so you don’t get surprised by a channel suddenly being filled with water when it was dry and walkable on your way out.

Also, have good shoes or boots; slipping on rocks and barnacles can lead to nasty scratches.

But now that spring has arrived and the outdoors call, there is no place I would rather be than tide pooling in Kodiak!

For activities in marine science, art and beach exploration, look on my website at keepkodiak.com. If you navigate to Camp Activities and then go to the last page, you will find the header “Tide Pooling.” 

Here, you will find some Kodiak tide pool animals, and you can print out a guide that can help anyone new to this activity get started with observations of common animals, the etiquette and a few tips to make the most of this amazing activity.

All the activities on the site are free, and if you like them (or if you don’t), feel free to send me an email and tell me about it.

You can also find earlier articles from this Amazing Nature column, and a kid’s story about king crab Cammy and her adventures — because what would be more fun after an afternoon of tide pooling than to hunker down and read a story together with the members of your household?

 

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