Monday, September 12, 2011

Beach Notebook

The following is a notebook I kept during a family week at the beach this past July.

“There are two ways to beachcomb, and both appeal to me. One is to scan the horizon, gazing over the breakers or down the misty shore until indistinct shapes reveal themselves for what they are. The other is to stroll head down, searching for treasures buried in the sun-bleached sand. I never know which impulse- to scan or to search- will sway me until I wander down to the edge of the sea.”

Richard Bode- from his book “Beachcombing at Miramar”

Crystal Beach, TX Bolivar Peninsula

July 20, 2011 Wednesday

We’ve been here for several days now and the first two days were pretty much consumed by rain. That’s about right. We’ve been going through a drought for the past two months and the week we decide to spend at the beach is when it decided to end. Oh well, the forecast for the rest of the week looks pretty good with a small chance of showers only occurring in the afternoon. I was able to take a ride out onto the beach to check out the surf and it wasn’t like what I had hoped. If you’ve read some of my past “beach” posts you’ll know how I love searching for shark’s teeth. I’ll spend an entire afternoon scouring the shelled areas of the surf looking for these treasures. Over the years I have found several hundred teeth from many different types of sharks. People walk past me wondering what it is I’m looking for, most just pass me by, but some ask what it is I seek. When I explain to them I’m looking for shark’s teeth, some, but not all, look glumly and reply “You do know you can buy shark’s teeth all day long at the local souvenir shops”. I usually give them an awkward gaze and respond “yes sure I do, but where’s the fun in that?” As they walk off with a puzzled look on their face I think how taking the time to find these on your own gives it a different, special meaning. A meaning that makes one feel as if this tiny piece of life was placed there by the surging waves just for me to find. I guess some folks are just plain lazy and don’t know how to have fun.

Later in the afternoon my grand-daughter and I did a little beachcombing. As we were working along the “swash” zone- the area where the waves sweep onto shore, we spotted some coquina clams (Donax variabilis) that had gotten washed ashore. I called her over and told her to watch them closely. Seconds later they began digging their way into the wet sand until they disappeared. She was so excited to see this so I showed her how to find them. I pointed out the tiny holes in the sand and told her to dig there. Sure enough she found one. We began digging until she had a bunch in the bottom of her little blue bucket.

We then walked over to the swash area and began poking them into the sand one by one and then waited patiently until they all began to dig in. She had so much fun, and at the same time learned something new.

July 21, 2011 Thursday

7:30 a.m.- went out on the beach to check the tide- conditions still unfavorable for finding shark’s teeth. The reason these “shelled” areas I spoke of are so significant is that these tiny shards act as “catchers” that grab the teeth as they’re washed ashore. I’ll have to check the local tide tables to see when the next low tide is which would make things much better.

I did come across the sign of a ghost crab (Ocypode quadrata), aka sand crab. It digs a small ½ ” hole in the sand that leads to a deep burrow that ends at a chamber where they remain during the hottest part of the day. They also use these chambers during the winter months. They walk on the tips of their legs which allows them to travel rapidly across the sand. It gets its oxygen from the air through gills which must stay moist with sea water in order to work properly. I watched for quite some time before it came to the surface and revealed itself. Its markings, which it can change at will, blend so well with the surf they’re easily overlooked. Note the tiny claw marks in the sand.

July 22, 2011 Friday

8:00 a.m.- went back out on the beach to find the same lousy surf conditions. Did pick up lots of colorful trash though.

3:00 p.m.- beach combed for an hour……nada, except for a few pieces of sea glass and a small fragment of fossilized bone.

Also found a few more speckled crab (Arenaeus cribrarius) carapaces bringing the grand total to (11). These young crabs were probably washed ashore and then dismantled and eaten by shorebirds.

I also came across a (now extinct) pull ring tab from an early beer can. These tabs were introduced in the early 1960’s and went on to become an “environmental nightmare”. People would pull them off the can and toss them to the ground. These things were found everywhere. Wildlife began consuming them and dying until 1975 when the “stay-on-tab”, which is still used today, was developed.

July 23, 2011 Saturday

11:30 a.m.- after close to a whole week of combing the beach it appears that this trip will end up being a dud as far as finding shark’s teeth goes. I was fortunate though to find a sea bean in a mass of seaweed that was washed ashore.

All in all the surf has been unusually uncooperative which is strange indeed. In the past I have never encountered a time when there wasn’t at least a couple days of surf swathed in shells that had trapped the treasures that I seek. On average I leave with at least 20-30 teeth in my pocket and a pound or so of sea glass. Not so this time, but I do leave with something more important. Memories of time spent with my family, especially my grand-daughter.

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