Thursday, October 28, 2010

Last Child in the Tide Pools

I am thankful that there are still beaches where it's not against the rules to take home seashells. Some of the tide pools we've been to have a long list of don'ts. Instead of just prohibiting taking animals from the tide pools, some beaches have rules against touching any animals and taking home even one seashell or rock. That means it is actually against the law for a child to run his fingers over a starfish, or to take home an empty mussel shell, or to touch the tentacle of an anemone to watch it close up. If that doesn't sound shocking to you, maybe you have spent too much time in this we've-got-the-whole-activity-planned-out-for-you world, and you've forgotten what you found intriguing as a child. Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods, calls this "the criminalization of natural play." He writes, "...stringent restrictions on children's outdoor play spring from our efforts to protect nature from human population pressures...But poor land use decisions, which reduce accessible nature in cities, do far more damage to the environment than do children." Some environmentalists and scientists would prefer that children learn about nature only through a pane of glass or from photographs. Just today, we were told by a smiling, well-intentioned, I'm sure, park ranger in 20,00 acres of wilderness (and we were almost the only people interested in the this wilderness) that the children cannot climb any of the trees there. She then proceeded to tell us that they have a scavenger hunt all-planned-out-for-kids with a short trail. So often I think, my children have more sense than many adults. My eight year old asked me, "We can't even climb that one decayed elderberry tree?"

giant green anemone

We know that those who have a love of the natural world often gained that love of the environment through direct contact with plants and animals. This is true for John Burroughs, John Muir, Beatrix Potter, John James Audubon, and so many others. We are always glad to find places where direct contact with nature is allowed.

In Defense of Collecting Shells

Our favorite tide pool beach is place that feels like it's ours. This place is so dear to my boys. Places like this are part of the antidote to becoming jaded, too cool for everything, and bored. And my children will be eager to protect this place when they are older, while the places with don't-touch-anything policies will likely be the places they have no connection to in the future. Their excitement is fueled by the possibility of finding a unique shell, the possible of catching a fast swimming tide pool sculpin. We have identified so many species here which were quite new to us, with such a thrill of discovery. Our shells at home have been studied, scrutinized, sketched, and talked about again and again. And we learn so much from them.

What We've Learned From Tide Pools

Searching pays off. Some creature prefer to attach themselves under ledges of protruding rocks, like the Chesnut Cowrie.

Little creatures are fascinating. This leather star feel like leather and smells like garlic.

Innocent-looking creatures can be powerful.
This Kellet's Whelk, with a soft body, somehow manages to bore a hole in the shell of its prey in order to eat it. When I first learned this, I was so happy to have the mystery explained, why do so many shells on the beach have perfectly round holes?

Strange-looking creatures can be quite ordinary. This tangled bramble of noxious-looking tubes is actually just eggs. The pink ones are from a black sea hare, while the green group is from a brown sea hare.

Ink from a brown sea hare, which it discharges when irritated:

God is a true artist. I am glad that my children are not just learning isolated facts. They know the Source of all truth, the Creator, the Author of salvation. And the cliffs, tide pool creatures, and light-catching clouds provide occasions to reflect on His goodness and creativity. This is a poem Mason wrote when he was six, as we climbed the steep hill from the tide pools to our car:

Thou Artist, thou Artist,
how beautiful you make
the sky at night
when it's dark
it is real
beautiful bursting
many urchins are there

Thou Artist, thou Artist
how you make the crab
scurry through the rocks
and the beautiful seashells

Oh world,
how beautiful
your Artist made you

Banded Brittle Star

An orange nudibranch. Maybe a Spotted Triopha?

This colorful pool looks like a page from one of our favorite books, Pagoo, by Holling C. Holling:

Clipped Semele

Heading home....


  1. I love this! What is your favorite compact nature guide for the tide pools. I am trying to be more adventurous with my 3 boys. We need more places where they can touch and climb. I don't like to go places where they can't climb trees that are begging for their little limbs to climb them!

  2. I love my seashore field guide, but it's not compact. It's called The Beachcomber's Guide to Seashore Life of California.

  3. Great post! And always so articulate Jen. Seahare eggs? And look at all those urchins! Let's go there this week instead :) The poem is exceptional.

    Exceptional poem!

  4. Great piece! Not only does it bring back fond memories of exploring tide pools, but it offers a great argument that allowing interaction with nature actually protects it. I have never heard that point made, but it makes all kinds of sense.

  5. I love this, Jen! And what an amazing poem.

    I forwarded your blog post to several friends who I thought would appreciate it. One of my friends had this interesting comment:

    "Liberal self-destructive behavior at work. Liberal environmentalists want to protect nature by keeping people away destroying any sentimental attachment people have for it. And then they act surprised when people cease to care about its destruction. They still haven't learned that persuasion is far more effective than regulation for accomplishing their aims."

  6. So true Courtney, if only people were willing to think two steps ahead and ask, what will be the long-term consequence of a given policy!

  7. Like Dennis Prager always says, being liberal means never having to say, 'I'm sorry.'