Sunday, April 15, 2018

Thoughts on a rocky shore

I love a rocky beach.

Polished rocks, a sprinkling of barnacles

The current runs strong along the eastern shore of the Georgia Strait, and the tides pound in and drain out quickly. Many of the rocky areas are like this; water-polished rocks, with very little life visible. Turning over stones at low tide, I find more smooth stones. No crabs, no hermits, no worms. They must be there, but have retreated to deeper, safer hideouts.

Sometimes there are barnacles, in flatter areas thickly covering the stones, in other spots clustered on the sheltered sides and bottoms of the rocks. There are spots where none are to be seen, where the rocks shine as if they were waxed and buffed.

Down near the lowest tide line, seaweeds cover the rocks. It's dangerous walking; the weeds are slippery, and the rocks move underfoot. No matter how carefully I step, I'm always a twisted ankle away from a spill. But here, the crabs and other critters find a refuge. From the waves, from hungry gulls, and also from me, as I usually gingerly skirt the greenest areas, keeping an eye on the water's edge, ready to hurry towards land when the tide turns; I don't want to be caught in seaweed over stones as the water races in. Too risky.

A flatter spot, in the lower intertidal zone, with small erratics and tide pools. More barnacles here.

Coming towards a tide pool, I see ripples and splashes at the surface. By the time I get there (and sometimes I sneak up from the far side of the rock) there is nothing. The pool looks empty, just more clean stones with clear water. Even the tiny fish have hidden underneath the stones.

But there are always snails. Tiny, and tinier snails, dotting the rocks, basking in the warmth or resting in a tide pool. Most are pinhead size, some as "big" as a grain of rice. They hold on tight, or don't provide enough resistance to the waves to be washed away. Maybe their shape helps; smooth and rounded, with a sharp tip.

Under an inch of water in a tide pool, rice-grain snails and a few limpets choose the warmest rock.

Everywhere else, where I find tiny snails, a good half of the shells house miniature hermit crabs. Not here. I think I saw one leg poking out of a shell; otherwise, every snail shell is full of snail. Hermits can easily be bowled over by a wave and swept away.

The tiniest snails are a worry for me. In some spots, every decent-sized stone is covered with them, like sprinkles on a donut. I can't put my foot down without stepping on some. I try to brush them aside, but risk tripping myself up as the stone shifts. I am glad my shoes have deep ridging; at least some of my footprint is safe for tiny critters.

Sand is safer, for the snails, and for me.

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