Clearing My Head

There are some annoying and discouraging things happening in my life. Sometimes I amazed that at my age I can still be so upset about some things that people do that cause me pain. Let. It. Go. I tell myself and can feel the tension starting to release. Still agitated. Then I go to the beach.

I needed solitude, the wind, a large sky, the sound of the water lapping the shore and the sight of the winter ducks bobbing in the waves. Fortunately it is only a ten minute drive for me to the shore of the Long Island Sound.

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It was just what the doctor ordered. As I walked onto the beach I loved the contact of my sneakers with the wet sand and pebbles underfoot and the slight angle of the spit of land I was walking on.

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It was a little harder to walk on the pebbles and sand than at the park, but the challenge was what I needed to work out my angst and my knotted muscles.It was almost low tide so there were a lot of wet pebbles and shells to walk on.

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As I stepped forward I picked up my head and noticed what a beautiful S-shaped curve the beach made today. Every time I walk here this sand spit is shaped and reshaped by wind and water.

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Along the way I picked up a few objects as I often do. Although I am overly familiar with what the tide usually deposits along this shore, I nonetheless felt the need to scoop up a few nicely scallop-edged oyster shells (for which these waters were once famous), as well as a couple of pieces of beach glass which are a rare find these days. The tactile contact with these gifts from the sea helped to calm me.

Now and then I paused just to gaze at the seascape and take it all in. I needed those deep inhalations of sea air to clear my body of my personal toxic fumes. There was just enough of a breeze to feel the cleansing action of my breathing.

Overhead sea gulls were plentiful and very busy snapping at shellfish and dropping them from above in an effort to break open their shells. The sea gulls were quite noisy today providing a constant background of squawking and squealing which I found quite soothing in its familiarity.

Then suddenly, in the curve of the shore, I noticed them: a group of Brant floating at the shore’s edge. It hasn’t been a typical winter, warmer than usual as is the case mostly everywhere, so the usual winter ducks haven’t always been around. But the Brant were here today and they were close enough that I got to hear their honking sounds.

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I walked a bit further and turned back. The sun, wind, sand and water had done their job. My raw edges were softened a bit and I was able to sit and read for a while in the fading sunlight.

Horseshoe Crabs Are Survivors…Just Like Me!

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Today was one of those golden days  of summer.  The tide was perfect: high tide at 2 pm.  My daughter had the day off from work and I was ready to relax.  We quickly collected our beach stuff, grabbed our beach bags and hastily spread sun lotion on each other.

I grew up on the North Shore of LI in a small beach town. Unlike living on the South Shore where you can swim anytime, on the North Shore our beach lives revolved around the tides; a good tide meant a fun week. A week of low tides in the afternoon meant a week of no beach which was torture back in the days of no air conditioning.  You learned to drop everything and make the most of the beach during the week of good afternoon tides, as we did today.

Although it was a scorching day, when we arrived we were pleasantly surprised to find that there were few people on the beach. We found our spot on a spit of land bordered on one side by a deep channel and on the other side by an inlet of the LI Sound.  We immersed ourselves immediately; the water was clean and so salty it felt like we were swimming through jello.  Two hours passed quickly and it looked like it might rain, so we began to prepare to leave.  Just then I spotted a group of young boys huddled around a horseshoe crab I had seen bobbing on top of the water about 100 feet away.  I had been thinking about retrieving it and keeping it, as I have done in the past, as a specimen to show to my students.  But they got to it before I did. I rose from my beach chair and walked over to the boys who were passing the dead horseshoe crab around and poking at it tentatively.

“If you kids don’t want to keep that shell, I’d like to have it,” I ventured.  “I  would like to have it as a specimen for my students.” They shrugged in agreement and we began to discuss the fossil.  It turned out to be a complete horseshoe crab; its insides were still intact. In my many years of scavenging horseshoe crabs, I have found only empty shells.  This find was a biologist’s dream. It still had all its parts: its pincers, claws, gills, digestive system and other parts I couldn’t identify. The boys knew a lot about the creature which surprised me. Most people who encounter a specimen such as this one usually have never seen one before, and even if they have, they don’t know anything about them.

When the boys left, I brought the horseshoe crab over to my daughter for her to inspect. She had once dreamed of becoming a marine biologist and still loves to examine and even dissect creatures she finds dead. After we examined the creature as much as we could, we returned it to the water where it continued to float just as it was when the boys first found it.

Coincidentally, last week at a writing workshop for teachers I taught a demo lesson and my topic was…horseshoe crabs! My intention was to teach a lesson that would demonstrate to mainstream teachers how to conduct a science lesson with a class that includes English Language Learners, helping them to develop the vocabulary and academic language they would need to write about any science topic. The workshop leaders encouraged us to teach something we were passionate about and enjoyed teaching. I had taught a similar lesson to my own class of English Language Learners a few years and it was a big hit at the time. I was again very successful this summer teaching the lesson to my colleagues in the writing workshop. I am convinced that everyone is fascinated with a survivor…and the horseshoe crab is a big time survivor, having been on this earth for about 450 million years.

So why am I so passionate about the horseshoe crab (and have always been so)? It is one year since I was diagnosed with a rare, metastatic cancer, and have since become a cancer survivor. I have great respect for this creature that has managed to survive so many millenia and is still swimming in the same places I once swam as a girl. I hope it will be around for many more eons and that I will be able to enjoy its company for as long as we are both still swimming in these waters.