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    Beachcombing and Tidepooling in Northern California 

             One the best and most accessible places to explore tidepools in Northern California is Point Montara.  There is a lighthouse hostel which overlooks the ocean and from the hostel a trail winds down to a sandy beach.  During low tide the waves retreat and the extent of their former reach is indicated by the line of organic marine debris (shells, algae, fragments of dead crustaceans and mollusks) that has accumulated on the sand.  While this aggregation of marine debris may appear uninteresting, it is among this collection of material that one can find a galaxy of sea creature remnants that, if larger, one would marvel at, but because they are miniature they tend to be overlooked.  These miniscule dead sea creatures are visible to the naked eye if you get close enough, but their small size almost warrants a magnifying glass to properly observe their fascinating details.  And while it is possible to collect these tiny arthropods and mollusks with your fingers, it would not be unreasonable to use a pair of forceps in order to pick them up and transfer them into a mason jar.  (Whenever I go beachcombing I am reminded of Steven Millhauser’s beautiful short story, In the Reign of Harad IV, about a court miniaturist who sculpts impossibly small dioramas.)  Upon closer examination it becomes clear that many of the small shells are essentially baby snails, clams, limpets, mussels, chitons, crabs, or urchins that have died and washed ashore.  Although tragic, their deaths need not be in vain, for most shall disintegrate into the sand which forms the beaches of the shoreline, and some lucky exoskeletons may even be taken home with me and become part of a sculpture if I can get organized enough to not take the easy way out by going to be coast whenever I have free time and instead actually staying at home to work on my personal projects.


              The tidepools are a temporary world unto themselves, nearly each one a microcosm bursting with colorful intertidal sea life which changes with the cycle of the tides.  Of course, many intertidal residents will remain in their given tidepools longer than others: barnacles and sea anemones (which can live up to three-hundred years and can clone themselves, literally dividing their own bodies to reproduce asexually) are affixed to rocks more permanently than chitons, which graze on algae, or the numerous snails (some of which can live up to a hundred years) that seem to glide over the rocks in the tidepool.  In a healthy tidepool, the creatures inhabiting the intertidal zones compete for precious space the on the rocks, which can sometimes be entirely enveloped by lifeforms so as to appear as though the rock itself is single living organism capable of getting up and walking around on its anemone legs.  The sea anemones are some of the most striking creatures in tidepools.  Their phosphorescent bodies and tentacles (which contain the stinging nematocysts cells used to stun and capture their prey) seem to glow in brilliant hues of green, red, purple, and pink.  They are a reminder of how marvelous life on this planet is, and because they require a stable and clean ecosystem in which they are not stepped on in order to survive, they are also a reminder how fragile life on Earth is as well.

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