Reaching for the Sea Stars

By , March 21, 2011

This morning, just before 9:00 am local time, we had a pretty decent low tide. Not an extreme low, as many news sources blithely reported because of the recent “super moon” (where do these people get their information?) just one low enough to get some important work done, -3.8 foot. That important work  is gardening.

sea star

The sea star, terror of the ocean floor, boon to the homestead garden (Photo: Michelle Zeiger).

That’s right, gardening. I went down to the water’s edge to find sea stars, with which to fertilize the garden. We find that pieces of sea star in the grow boxes very good for vegetables, particularly potatoes.

Down toward our southern point, the bottom conditions are right for sea urchins. That’s where we find sea stars. Incredibly, sea stars are voracious predators, ever on the slow-motion hunt for urchins, mussels, clams, and many other sea creatures.

But, just because the tide serves does not mean it’s the right time to harvest. I searched the beach without finding any urchins, whelks, or other sea star prey. I hardly saw any limpets, either. They’re usually plentiful.

I thought about this as I stumbled along the algae-slick water’s edge, warily dodging the bigger waves as they came at me as if sentient, bent on soaking me. I suppose that all the creatures I sought have had many eons of existence to learn that, while drying out between tides isn’t much of a problem for them, freezing between tides might be. Freezing seemed like a possibility to a younger, less experienced species that obviously lacked the sense to avoid the beach that day (that would be me). Arctic air continues to pour out of the Yukon; temperatures are warming, but a soft bodied sea creature might not survive the exposure.

So how would they know this? We don’t know yet, but it does seem likely. Read about the apparent navigational abilities of limpets—it’ll blow your mind!

I found one starfish, which I collected, and brought home. I also got a few fronds of fresh seaweed for my lunch today (Michelle and Aly will be in town for yoga; they’re not crazy about seaweed, but I am). No foraging trip ever seems completely wasted. We’ll have another good foraging tide in April, before planting season. Surely we’ll find what we need then.

Even without this meager success, the trip would have been worth it. I loved being out in the fresh air and early sunshine. The smell of the tide line is springtime fresh today. Just before bedtime last night we heard the first humpback whale of the season blow as it passed in the dark. Our little world is coming alive again after a long winter. Soon the herring will arrive. I’m overwhelmed with well being after the morning’s adventure, and a reviving cup of hot cocoa. Life is good.

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