Noticing Nudibranchs

    Today’s post will surely make you long for the sea if you live far away from it like I do!  Please welcome Erin (and check out her bio at the end of the post.)  I think I can smell that Alaskan salt water now…


    The fish looked a little like a miniature eel, wriggling vigorously in the clamshell the girl had captured it in. A pair of boys turned over another rock, looking for more. Kids ran back and forth across the lush growth of seaweed proudly showing off their finds.

    April 9, 2012. Outside Beach (west end), Kachemak Bay

    “I found a nudibranch!”

    “Look, it’s a really tiny decorator crab!”

    “Quick, bring a clamshell, there’s another gunnel fish here!”

    “Is this a sponge?”

    “I think this helmet crab is alive!”


    Adults watched nearby, issuing occasional reminders to return beleagured wildlife to their homes. A few of the kids managed not to go over the tops of their rubber boots.


    The kids were between 2 and 7 years old, a gaggle of local children gathered for a regular weekly hike. Their excitement was adorable to watch. And impressive. It’s easy to focus on the vocabulary. Hey, that 4-year-old knows what a nudibranch is! (a shell-less relative of a snail, also called a sea slug).


    But nudibranch is just a word. The more impressive thing is what they all can see.


    On another recent day, my family was low-tiding next to a group of lost-looking tourists– who were wondering what they were supposed to be looking at. Because things are small. And not always obvious. Because noticing is a skill that takes practice.


    In the summer, the full moon hits our coastal town with tides of minus five feet or even lower, exposing the rocky lairs of octopus and the flats of fuzzy sand dollars. Even on an average day, the water retreats across the rocks, exposing barnacles and hermit crabs and periwinkles and gunnel fish.


    The more you see, the more you notice. And these kids have seen a lot. Most of them have been tidepooling since they were crawling on rocks and chewing on seaweed, reaping the benefits of repeated immersion (usually literal as well as figurative).


    Nature is good for that. It’s depth for exploration is infinite. Even for me. Each low tide, I learn something new. A new animal. A pattern of where certain things live. How this little ecosystem differs from other beaches I’ve seen, or from other times I’ve been to this very same spot.


    Indoors, I struggle to arrange my kids’ environment so they know just what toys and supplies they have, and where it all belongs (a losing battle). But one of the things I’ve always loved most about natural environments is that they aren’t designed for people.


    Outdoors is for learning to observe.


    Erin McKittrick is a writer (author of A Long Trek Home, and Small Feet, Big Land), adventurer, and mother of two. She is a veteran of over 7,000 of miles of wilderness travel, and her family regularly disappears into the Alaskan wilds for months at a time. In between these journeys, they live between mountains and ocean in Seldovia, Alaska. Visit her blog at Ground Truth Trekking. All photos are credited to Erin.

    © 2013, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.

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